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Copyright, 1900, by Samuel Adams Drake. 

All rights reserved. 

The Myths and Fables of To-day. 


Norwood Press 

J. S. Cusbing & Co. — Berwick & Smith 

Norwood, Mass.y U.S.A. 


I. A Reckoning with Time . 
II. The Folk-lore of Childhood 

III. Weather Lore . 

IV. Signs of All Sorts . 
V. Charms to Good Luck 

VI. Charms against Disease 
VII. Of Fate in Jewels . 
VIII. Of Love and Marriage 
IX. Of Evil Omens . 
X. Of Haunted Houses, 

Places . 
XI. Of Presentiments 
XII. The Divining-rod 

XIII. Wonders of the Physical Universe 

XIV. "Ships that Pass in the Night 1 ' . 
XV. Fortune-telling, Astrology, and Palm 



Persons, and 















" Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too 

r^O say that superstition is one of the facts 
■*- of history is only to state a truism. If 
that were all, we might treat the subject from a 
purely philosophical or historical point of view, 
as one of the inexplicable phenomena of an age 
much lower in intelligence than our own, and 
there leave it. 

But if, also, we must admit superstition to be 
a present, a living, fact, influencing, if not con- 
trolling, the everyday acts of men, we have to 
deal with a problem as yet unsolved, if not 

I know it is commonly said that such things 
belong to a past age — that they were the legiti- 
mate product of ignorance, and have died out 

2 Myths and Fables 

with the education of the masses. In othei 
words, we know "more than our ancestors did 
about the phenomena of nature, and therefore 
by no means accept, as they did — good, super- 
stitious souls ! — the appearance of a comet 
blazing in the heavens, or the heaving of an 
earthquake under our feet, as events having 
moral significance. With the aid of electricity 
or steam we perform miracles every day of our 
lives, such as, no doubt, would have created 
equal wonder and fear for the general stability * 
of the world not many generations ago. 

Very true. So far as merely physical phe- 
nomena are concerned, most of us may have 
schooled ourselves to disunite them wholly from 
coming events ; but as regards those things 
which spring from the inward consciousness of 
the man himself, his intuitions, his perceptions, 
his aspirations, his imaginative nature, which, if 
strong enough, is capable of creating and peo- 
pling a realm wholly outside of the little world 
he lives in — "ay, there's the rub." Who will 
undertake to span the gulf stretching out a 

A Reckoning with Time 3 

shoreless void between the revelations of science 
and the incomprehensible mysteries of life itself ? 
It is upon that debatable ground that supersti- 
tion finds its strongest foothold, and, like the 
ivy clinging round old walls, defies every at- 
tempt to uproot it. As Hamlet so cogently 
puts it, — 

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, 
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." 

Superstition, we know, is much older than 
recorded history, and we now stand on the 
threshold of the twentieth century ; yet just 
in proportion as humanity has passed over this 
enormous space of time, hand in hand with 
progress, superstition has followed it like its 
shadow. That shadow has not yet passed 

There is no sort of use in denying the prone- 
ness of weak human nature to admit supersti- 
tion. It is an open door, through which the 
marvellous finds easy access. Imbibed in the 
cradle, it is not even buried in the grave. " Age 
cannot stale, nor custom wither " those ancient 

4 Myths and Fables 

fables of ghosts, giants, goblins, and brownies 
told by fond mothers to children to-day, just 
as they were told by mothers centuries ago. 
Even the innocent looking Easter egg, which 
continues to enjoy such unbounded popularity 
with old and young, comes of an old Aryan 
myth ; while the hanging up of one's stocking, 
at Christmas, is neither more nor less than 
an act of superstition, originating in another 
myth ; or, in plain English, no Santa Claus, no 

How much of childhood's charm in the 
greatest of all annual festivals, the world over, 
would remain if Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, 
and St. Nicholas were stripped of their tra- 
ditional, but wholly fictitious, character? One 
of our popular magazines for children — long 
life to it ! — flourishes under the title of St. 
Nicholas to-day ; and during the very latest 
observance of the time-honored festival, a lead- 
ing journal in New England's chief city devoted 
considerable space in its editorial columns to 
an elaborate defence of that dear old myth 

A Reckoning with Time 5 

Santa Claus, with whom, indeed, we should 
be very loth to part, if only for the sake of 
old associations. 

It is also noticed that quite recently stories 
of the wonderful brownies have enjoyed their 
greatest popularity. For a time these spindle- 
shanked, goggle-eyed puppets could be seen 
in every household, in picture-books, on book- 
covers, in the newspapers — in short, every- 
where. Should the children" be told that there 
never were any such creatures as fairies or 
brownies, there would be an end to all the 
charm they possess; for, unquestionably, their 
only hold upon the popular mind rests upon 
the association with olden superstition. Other- 
wise they would be only so many commonplace 
rag dolls. 

Kipling's popular "Jungle Stories," probably 
more widely read than any stories of the cen- 
tury, give still further effect to the same idea. 

Now, is not the plea that these are mere 
harmless nothings by far the most short-sighted 
one that could be advanced ? The critical 

6 Myths and Fables 

thought to be impressed here is that about the 
first teaching little children receive is a lesson in 
superstition, and that, too, at a time when their 
young minds are most susceptible to lasting im- 
pressions. We have yet to hear of the mother, 
nursery-maid, or governess, who begins the story 
of Cinderella or Bluebeard with the warning 
that it is not " a real true story," as children say. 

Are children of a larger growth any less 
receptive to the marvellous ? " Great oaks from 
little acorns grow." The seed first planted in 
virgin soil later bears an abundant harvest. 
Stage plays, operas, poetry, romances, painting, 
and sculpture dealing with the supernatural 
command quite as great a popularity, to-day, 
as ever. Fortune telling, palmistry, astrology, 
clairvoyance, hypnotism, and the rest, continue 
to thrive either as a means of getting a living, 
or of innocent diversion, leaving their mark 
upon the inner 'consciousness just the same in 
one case as in the other. 

So much being undeniable, it stands with 
every honest inquirer after truth to look these 

A Reckoning with Time 


facts in the face without blinking. Ignorance 
we dare not plead. The dictates of a sound 
common sense will not permit us to dismiss 
what we do not understand with a laugh, a 
shrug, or a sneer. " To scold is not to answer." 

Superstition is not easily defined. To say 
that it is a disposition to believe more than is 
warranted by reason, leaves us just as helpless 
as ever ; for where reason is impotent we have 
nothing tangible left to fall back upon. There 
is absolutely no support on which to rest that 
lever. Religion and philosophy, which at first 
fostered superstition, long ago turned against it 
all the forces they possessed. Not even sci- 
ence may hope to overthrow what can only be 
reached through the inner consciousness of 
man, because science can have little to do with 
the spiritual side of man. That intangible 
something still eludes its grasp. If all these 
combined forces of civilization have so far sig- 
nally failed to eradicate superstition, so much 
the worse for civilization. 

We might also refer to the efforts of some 

8 Myths and Fables 

very erudite scholars to interpret modern super- 
stition by the aid of comparative mythology. 
Vastly interesting, if not wholly convincing, 
theories have been constructed on this line. 
Instructive, too, is the fact that some of our 
most familiar nursery stories may be traced to 
the ancient folk-lore of still older peoples. 
Even a remote antiquity is claimed for the 
familiar nursery tale of "Jack and Jill"; while 
something very similar to the story of " Little 
Red Riding Hood " is found, in its purity, in the 
grewsome werewolf folk-lore of Germany ; and 
" Jonah's Gourd," of the East, we are told, 
probably is the original of " Jack and the Bean- 
stalk " of the West. 

But the very fact of the survival of all these 
hoary superstitions, some of them going back so 
far that all further trace is lost, certainly fur- 
nishes food for thought, since they seemingly 
enjoy as great a popularity as ever. 

Superstition being thus shown to be as old as 
human history, the question naturally arises, not 
how it may have originated in the Dark Ages, 

A Reckoning with Time 


but how it has kept its hold so tenaciously 
throughout all the succeeding centuries down 
to our own time. 

Most peoples, barbarians even, believed in 
some sort of a future state, in the principle of 
good and evil, and of rewards and punishments. 
There needs no argument then to account for 
the insatiable longing to pry into futurity, and 
to discover its hidden mysteries. The same 
idea unsettled the minds of former generations, 
nor can it be truthfully said to have disappeared 
before the vaunted wisdom of this utilitarian 
age. Like all forbidden fruit, this may be said 
to be the subject of greatest anxiety to weak 
human kind. 

What then is this talisman with the aid of 
which we strive to penetrate the secrets of the 
world beyond us ? 

Man being what he is, only " a little lower 
than the angels," endowed with the supernatural 
power of calling up at will mental images of 
both the living and the dead, of building air- 
castles, and peopling them according to his 

io Myths and Fables 

fantasy, as well in Cathay as in Spain, of stand- 
ing by the side of an absent friend on the 
summit of Mont Blanc, one moment among the 
snows, the next flitting through the garden spots 
of sunny Italy — if he is thus capable of trans- 
porting himself into an enchanted land by the 
mere exercise of the power of his imagination — 
what could better serve him as a medium of 
communication with the unknown, and what 
shall deter him from seeking to fathom its 
deepest mysteries ? Napoleon said truly that 
the imagination governs the universe. Every 
one has painted his own picture of heaven and 
hell as well as Dante or Milton, or the divine 
mysteries as truly as Leonardo or Murillo. 
Surely, the imagination could go no further. 

Assuming this to be true, there is little need 
to ask why, in this enlightened age, the attempt 
should be made to revive vagaries already 
decrepit, that would much better be allowed to 
go out with the departed century, unhonored 
and unsung. Such a question could proceed 
only from a want of knowledge of the true facts 
in the case. 

A Reckoning with Time 1 1 

But whether superstition is justified by the 
dictates of a sound common sense, is not so 
material here, as whether it actually does exist ; 
and if so, to what extent. That is what we shall 
try to make clear in the succeeding pages. The 
inquiry grows interesting in many ways, but 
most of all, we think, as showing the slow 
stages by which the human mind has enfran- 
chised itself from a species of slavery, without 
its counterpart in any direction to which we 
may turn for help or guidance. Even science, 
that great leveller of popular error, limps here. 
Certainly, what has existed as long as human 
history must be accepted as a more or less 
active force in human affairs. We are not, 
therefore, dealing with futilities. 

Of the present status of superstition, the 
most that can be truthfully said is that some of 
its worst forms are nearly or quite extinct, some 
are apparently on the wane, while those repre- 
senting, perhaps, the widest extremes (the most 
puerile and the most vital), such, for example, 
as relate to vapid tea-table gossip on the one 

12 Myths and Fables 

hand, and to fatal presentiments on the other, 
continue quite as active as ever. Uncivilized 
beings are now supposed to be the only ones 
who still hold to the belief in witchcraft, al- 
though within a very few months it has been 
currently reported as a fact that the judge of 
a certain Colorado court admitted the plea of 
witchcraft to be set up, because, as this learned 
judge shrewdly argued, more than half the 
people there believed in it. The defendant, 
who stood charged with committing a murder- 
ous assault upon a woman, swore that she had 
bewitched him, and was acquitted by the jury, 
mainly upon his own testimony. 

Unquestionably modern hypnotism comes 
very close to solving the problem of olden 
witchcraft, which so baffled the wisdom, as it 
tormented the souls and bodies, of our ances- 
tors, with this difference : that, while witchcraft 
was believed to be a power to work evil, com- 
ing direct from his Satanic Majesty himself, 
hypnotism is a power or gift residing in the 
individual, like that of mesmerism. 

A Reckoning with Time 13 

But if it be true that there are very few 
believers in witchcraft among enlightened be- 
ings to-day, it cannot be denied that thousands 
of highly civilized men and women as firmly 
believe in some indefinable relation between 
man and the spirit world as in their own 
existence; while tens of thousands believe in 
such a relation between mind and mind. In- 
deed, the former class counts some very nota- 
ble persons among its converts. For example, 
Camille Flammarion, the distinguished scientist, 
positively declares that he has had direct com- 
munication with hundreds of departed spirits. 1 
And the Reverend M. J. Savage, pastor of the 
Church of the Messiah, in New York, is re- 
ported to have announced himself a convert to 
spiritualism to his congregation not long ago. 

The true explanation for all these different 
beliefs must be sought for, we think, deep 
down in the nature of man, which is much 
the same to-day in its relation to the super- 
natural world as it was in the days of our 

1 " L'Inconnu et les Problems Psychiques." 

14 Myths and Fables 

fathers of bigoted memory. In reality, the 
supernatural element exists to a greater or less 
degree in all of us, and no merely human 
agency can pretend to fix its limits. 

Unquestionably, then, those beliefs which 
have exerted so potent an influence in the past 
over the minds or affairs of men, which con- 
tinue to exert such influence to-day, and, for 
ought we know to the contrary, may extend 
that influence indefinitely, are not to be whis- 
tled down the wind, or kept hidden away under 
lock and key, especially when we reflect that 
the most terrible examples of the frailty of all 
human judgments concerning these beliefs have 
utterly failed to remove the groundwork upon 
which they rest. 

There still remains the sentimental side of 
superstition to consider. What, for example, 
would become of much of our best literature, if 
all those apt and beautiful figures culled from 
the rich stores of ancient mythology — the very 
flowers of history, so to speak — were to be 
weeded out of it with unsparing hand ? What 

A Reckoning with Time 15 

would Greek and Roman history be with their 
gods and goddesses left out? With what lov- 
ing and appreciative art our greatest poets 
have gathered up the scattered legends of the 
fading past. Some one has cunningly said that 
superstition is the poetry of life, and that of all 
men poets should be superstitious. 

As a matter of history, it is well known that 
our Puritan ancestors came over here filled full 
of the .prevalent superstitions of the old coun- 
try; yet even they had waged uncompromising 
warfare against all such ceremonious obser- 
vances as could be traced back to heathen 
mythology. Thus, although they cut down 
May-poles, they had too much reverence for 
the Bible to refuse to believe in witches. 
Writers like Mr. Hawthorne have supposed that 
the wild and extravagant mysteries of their 
savage neighbors, may, to some extent, have 
become incorporated with their own beliefs. 
However that may be, it is certain that the 
Puritan fathers believed in no end of pregnant 
omens, also in ghosts, apparitions, and witches, 

16 Myths and Fables 

as well as in a personal devil, with whom, 
indeed, later on, they had no end of trouble. In 
short, if anything happened out of the com 
mon, the devil was in it. So say many to-day. 

A certain amount of odium has attached 
itself to the Puritan fathers of New England, 
on this account, among unreflecting or ill- 
natured critics at least, just as if, upon leaving 
Old England, those people would be expected 
to leave their superstitions behind them, like 
so much useless luggage. As a matter of fact, 
rank superstition was the common inheritance 
of all peoples of that day and generation, 
whether Jew or Gentile, Frenchman or Dutch- 
man, Virginian or New Englander. Of its 
wide prevalence in Old England we find ample 
proof ready to our hand. For example : 

"At Boston, in Lincolnshire, Mr. Cotton 
being their former minister, when he was 
gone the bishop desired to have organs set 
up in the church, but the parish was unwill- 
ing to yield ; but, however, the bishop pre- 
vailed to be at the cost to set them up. But 

A Reckoning with Time 17 

they being newly up (not playing very often 
with them) a violent storm came in at one 
window and blew the organs to another win- 
dow, and brake both organs and window 
down, and to this day the window is out of 
reputation, being boarded and not glazed." 1 

Still further to show the feeling prevailing 
in England toward superstition at the time of 
the settlement of this country, in the histori- 
cal essay entitled " With the King at Oxford," 
we find this anecdote : The King (Charles I.), 
coming into the Bodleian Library on a cer- 
tain day, was shown a very curious copy of 
Virgil. Lord Falkland persuaded his Majesty 
to make trial of his fortune by thrusting a 
knife between the leaves, then opening the 
book at the place in which the knife was in- 
serted. The king there read as follows : — 

" Yet let him vexed bee with arms and warres of people 
And hunted out from place to place, an outlaw still 
exylde : 

1 Wallington, "Historical Notices, Reign of Charles I." 

1 8 Myths and Fables 

Let him go beg for helpe, and from his childe dissevered y 

And death and slaughter vile of all his kindred let him 


The narrative goes on to say that the king's 
majesty was " much discomposed " by this un- 
canny incident, and that Lord Falkland, in 
order to turn the king's thoughts away from 
brooding over it, proposed making the trial 

We continue to draw irrefragable testimony 
to the truth of our position from the highest 
personages in the realm. Again, according 
to Wallington, Archbishop Laud, arch perse- 
cutor of the Puritans, has this passage in his 
diary : " That on such or such a day of the 
month he was made archbishop of Canter- 
bury, and on that day, which was a great day 
of honor to him, his coach and horses sunk 
as they came over the ferry at Lambeth, in 
the ferry-boat, and he prayed that this might 
be no ill omen." 

Our pious ancestors put a good deal of 

A Reckoning with Time 19 

faith in so-called "judgments," or direct mani- 
festations of the divine wrath toward evil- 
doers, as all readers of Mather's " Remark- 
able Providences" well know. But they were 
by no means alone in such beliefs. It is re- 
lated of the poet Milton, after he became 'blind, 
that the Duke of York (later James II.) 
asked him if he did not consider the loss 
of his eyesight as a judgment inflicted upon 
him for what he had written of the late king. 
In reply Milton asked the duke, if such afflic- 
tions were to be regarded as judgments from 
heaven, in what manner he would account for 
the fate of the late king ; ... he, the speaker, 
had only lost his eye, while the king had lost 
his head." 

John Josselyn, Gent., an Englishman, but no 
Puritan, who spent some time in New England, 
chiefly at Scarborough in Maine, published, in 
1672, in England, a little book under the title of 
" New England's Rarities Discovered." Some 
things which Josselyn "discovered" would be rar- 
ities indeed to this generation. For instance, he 

20 Myths and Fables 

describes the appearance of several prodigious 
apparitions — all of which has a value in 
enabling us properly to gauge the tone and 
temper of popular feeling where the book was 
written, and where it was published. One of 
his ''rarities" is worth repeating here, if only 
for the pretty sentiment it embodies. He says 
of the twittering chimney-swallows, " that when 
about to migrate they commonly throw down 
(the chimney) one of their young into the room 
below, by way of gratitude," presumably in 
return for the hospitalities of the house. He 
then goes on to say, " I have more than once 
observed that, against the ruin of a family, these 
birds will forsake the house and come no more." 
This comes from a more or less close observer, 
who himself occupied the relation we desire to 
establish, namely that of a transplanted English- 
man, so thoroughly grounded in old superstition 
that all the marvels he relates are told with an 
air of truth quite refreshing. 

An amusing instance of how far prevalent 
superstition can lead astray minds usually en- 


A Reckoning with Time 21 

lightened is soberly set forth in Governor 
Winthrop's celebrated history. It is a fit corol- 
lary to the organ superstition, just narrated. 

" Mr. Winthrop the younger, one of the mag- 
istrates, having many books in a chamber, 
where there was corn of divers sorts, had among 
them one wherein the Greek Testament, the 
Psalter and the Common Prayer were bound 
together. He found the Common Prayer eaten 
with mice, every leaf of it, and not any of the 
two other touched, nor any other of his books, 
though there were above a thousand." 

All these superstitious beliefs were solemnly 
bequeathed by the fathers to their children un- 
der the sanction of a severe penal code, together 
with all the accumulated traditions of their 
own immediate ancestors. And in some form 
or other, whether masquerading under some thin 
disguise or foolish notion, superstition has con- 
tinued from that day to this. As Polonius says : 

"... 'Tis true, 'tis pity ; 
And pity 'tis 'tis true.' 11 

Although a great many popular beliefs may 

22 Myths and Fables 

seem puerile in the extreme, they none the less 
go to establish the fact to be kept in mind. 
Since I began to look into the matter I have 
been most astonished at the number of very 
intelligent persons who take care to conform to 
prevailing beliefs in things lucky or the reverse. 
It is true Lord Bacon tells us that "in all super- 
stitions wise men follow fools." But this blunt 
declaration of his has undoubted reference to 
the schoolmen, and to the monastic legends 
which were such powerful aids in fostering the 
growth of superstition as it existed long before 
Bacon's time : — 

" A bone from a saintly anchorite's cave, 
A vial of earth from a martyr's grave. " 

The class of persons just spoken of, is, how- 
ever, so keenly sensitive to ridicule that only 
some chance remark betrays their real mental 

With the unlettered it is different. Supersti- 
tion is so much more prevalent among them 
that less effort is made at concealment. Per- 
haps the many agencies at work to put it down 

A Reckoning with Time 23 

have not had so fair a trial in the country as in 
the city. And yet the recent "Lucky-Box" 
craze makes it difficult to draw the line. Be that 
as it may, it would hardly be an exaggeration to 
say that some rural communities in New Eng- 
land are simply honeycombed with it. Indeed, 
almost every insignificant happening is a sign 
of something or other. 

One result of my own observation in this 
field of research is, that women, if not by 
nature more superstitious than men, hold to 
these old beliefs much more tenaciously than 
men. In the country, it is the woman who is 
ready to quarrel with you, if, in some un- 
guarded moment, you should venture to doubt 
the potency of her manifold signs. In the city, 
it is still the woman who presents her husband 
with some charm or other to be worn on his 
watch-chain, as a safeguard against disease, 
inconstancy, late hours, or other uncounted 
happenings of life, believing, as she does, more 
or less implicitly, in its traditional efficacy. In 
all that relates to marriage, too, women are 

24 Myths and Fables 

usually most careful how they disregard any of 
the accepted dicta on a subject of so much 
concern to their future happiness, as will ap- 
pear later on. 

Fifty years ago the poet Whittier declared 
that " There is scarcely a superstition of the past 
three centuries which has not, at this very time, 
more or less hold upon individual minds among 
us." The broad declaration demands less quali- 
fication to-day than is generally supposed. 

Most of the examples collected in this vol- 
ume have come under my own observation; 
some have been contributed by friends, many 
by the newspapers. If their number should 
prove a surprise to anybody, I can only say 
that mine has fully equalled their own. But 
let us, at least, be honest about it. We can 
conceal nothing from ourselves. Silence may 
be golden, but it makes no converts. 



" Why this is the best fooling when all is done." — Twelfth 

r I ^HE trite saying that "children and fools 
•*- are soothsayers " goes straight to the 
heart of those familiar superstitions with which 
the folk-lore of childhood abounds. We, the 
children of a larger growth, often call to mind 
with what avidity we listened in our childhood's 
days to the nursery tales of giants, dwarfs, 
ghosts, fairies, and the like creations of pure 
fancy. We still remember how instantly all 
the emotions of our childish nature were ex- 
cited by the recital of these marvels — told us, 
too, with such an air of truth, that never for a 
moment did we doubt them. Oh, how we 


26 Myths and Fables 

hated Blue Beard, and how we adored Jack 
the Giant-Killer ! Are we not treated, just as 
soon as we are out of the cradle, as if supersti- 
tion was the first law of nature? What is the 
wonder, then, that the effects of these early- 
impressions are not easily got rid of, or the 
impressions themselves soon, if ever, forgot- 
ten ? " Brownie " is put into the arms of tod- 
dling infants before they can articulate two 
words plainly. Just as soon as the child is able 
to prattle a little, it is taught the familiar nur- 
sery rhyme of 

" Bye, bye, Baby Bunting, 
Papa's gone a-hunting,"" 

drawn from ancient folk-lore, with which the 
rabbit and hare are so intimately associated. 
After the innocent face rhymes, found with 
little variation, in no less than four different 
languages, giving names to each of the chubby 
little features, — 

" Eyes winker, Tom Tinker," etc. 
come the well-known button rhymes, like this : 

The Folk-lore of Childhood 27 

u Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief, 
Doctor, lawyer, merchant, chief; 11 

or this one, told centuries ago to children 
across the water: — 

" A tinker, a tailor, 
A soldier or sailor, 
A rich man, a poor man, 
A priest or a parson, 
A ploughman or a thief. 11 

The virgin soil being thus artfully prepared 
to receive superstition, the boy or girl goes 
forth among playmates similarly equipped, 
with them to practice various forms of con- 
juration in their innocent sports, without in 
the least knowing what they are doing. Here 
are a few of them : — 

Making a cross upon the ground before 
your opponent, at the same time muttering 
" criss-cross," when playing at marbles, to make 
him miss his shot, as I have often seen done 
in my schoolboy days. This is merely a relic 
of that superstition attached to making the sign 
of the cross, as a charm against the power of 
evil spirits. 

28 Myths and Fables 

The innocent sounding words " criss-cross " 
we believe originally to have been Christ's 

Children of both sexes count apple seeds 
by means of the pretty jingling rhymes, so 
like to the German flower oracle, often em- 
ployed by children of a larger growth. It 
has been set to music. 

"One I love, 
Two I love. 
Three I love, I say, 
Four I love with all my heart, 
Five I cast away ; 
Six he loves, 
Seven she loves, 
Eight both love ; 
Nine he comes, 
Ten he tarries, 
Eleven he courts, 
Twelve he marries." 

Holding the pretty field buttercup under 
another's chin, in order to see if he or she loves 
butter, is a good form of divination. So is the 
practice of blowing off the fluffy dandelion top, 
after the flower has gone to seed, to determine 

The Folk-lore of Childhood 29 

the hour, as that flower always opens at about 
five in the morning, and shuts at about eight in 
the evening, thus making it stand in the room 
of a clock for shepherds. This plant has also 
been called the rustic oracle. To find the time 
of day, as many puffs as it takes to blow away 
the downy seed balls gives the answer. The 
same method of divination is employed by 
children to find out if their mothers want them ; 
or to waft a message to some loved one ; or to 
know if such or such a person is thinking of 
them ; and whether he or she lives north, east, 
south, or west. 

To the same general purport is the invocation : 

u Rain, rain, go away, 
Come again another day." 

We understand that the equally familiar 

form, — 

" Snail, snail, put out your horn, 1 ' 

is repeated in China as well as in this country, 
though sometimes altered to 

" Snail, snail, come out of your hole, 
Or else I'll beat you black as a coal. 1 ' 

30 Myths and Fables 

One equally familiar form of childish invoca- 
tion appears in the pretty little lady-bird rhyme, 
so often repeated by the young : — 

" Lady-bird, lady-bird, 
Fly away home, 
Your house is on fire, 
Your children will burn." 

A favorite way, with boys, of choosing sides 
for a game of ball is by measuring the stick. 
To do this, the leader of one side first heaves 
the stick in the air, skilfully catching it, as it 
falls, at a point as near a hand's-breadth to the 
end as possible, as his opponent must then 
measure the stick with him, alternately hand- 
over-hand, from the point where it is caught. 
The one securing enough of the last of the 
stick for a hold, has the first choice. This is 
determination by lot. 

Still another form of invocation, formerly 
much used to clinch a bargain between boys, 
when "swapping" jack-knives or marbles, runs 
to this effect : — 

" Chip, chop, chay, 
Give a thing, give a thing, 
Never take it back again." 

The Folk-lore of Childhood 31 

The process of counting a person out in the 
familiar phrase as being "it," is fairly traced 
back to the ancient custom of designating a 
criminal from among his fellows by lot. The 
form that we know the best in New England, 
a sort of barbaric doggerel, according to Mr. 
Burton, is still current in Cornwall, England, 
and goes in this wise : — 

" Ena, mena, bora, mi : 
Kisca, lara, mova, di : 
Eggs, butter, cheese, bread. 
Stick, stock, stone dead. 1 ' 

The resemblance between the foregoing, and 

what is current among playfellows on this 

side of the water easily suggests that the boys 

of the "good Old Colony times," so often 

referred to with a sigh of regret, brought their 

games and pastimes along with them. As 

now remembered, the doggerel charm runs as 

follows : — 

u Eny, meny, mony might, 
Huska, lina, bony tight, 
Huldy, guldy, boo ! " 

32 Myths and Fables 

In getting ready for a game of "tag," "I 
spy," or " hide and seek," the one to whom 
this last magic word falls becomes the victim or 
is said to be "it." So in like manner the 
rhymed formula, following, is employed in 
counting a child " out " : — 

" One-ery, two-ery, ickery Ann, 
Fillicy, fallicy, Nicholas, John, 
Queever, quaver, English knaver, 
Stinckelum, stanckelum, Jericho, buck." 

A more simple counting-out rhyme is this : 

" One, two, three, 
Out goes he (or she)." 

"Tit, tat, toe," is still another form, repeated 
with variations according to locality. 

These few examples may serve to show 
that what the performers themselves regard 
only as a simple expedient in the arranging 
of their games, if they ever give the matter 
a thought, is really a survival of the belief 
in the efficacy of certain magical words, turned 
into rhyme, to propitiate success. If this idea 

The Folk-lore of Childhood 33 

had not been instilled into our children by- 
long custom and habit, it is not believed that 
they would continue to repeat such unmean- 
ing drivel. Yet, as childish as it may seem, 
it advances us one step in solving the intri- 
cate problem in hand ; for here, too, " the 
child is father to the man." 


"Fair is foul, and foul is fair." — Shakespeare. 

r I ^HERE is a certain class of so-called 
■*■ signs, that from long use have become 
so embedded in the every-day life of the 
people as to pass current with some as mere 
whimsical fancies, with others as possessing 
a real significance. At any rate, they crop 
out everywhere in the course of common con- 
versation. Most of them have been handed 
down from former generations, while not a 
few exhale the strong aroma of the native 
soil itself. 

Of this class of familiar signs or omens, 
affecting only the smaller and more casual 
happenings one may encounter from day to 


Weather Lore 35 

clay, or from hour to hour, those only will be 
noticed which seem based on actual super- 
stition. Many current weather proverbs accord 
so exactly with the observations of science as 
to exclude them from any such classification. 
They are simply the homely records of a 
simple folk, drawn from long experience of 
nature in all her moods. As even the prophe- 
cies of the Weather Bureau itself often fail 
of fulfilment, it is not to be wondered at if 
weather proverbs sometimes prove no better 
guide, especially when we consider that "all 
signs fail in a dry time." 

The following are a few examples selected 
from among some hundreds : — 

When a cat races playfully about the house, 
it is a sign that the wind will rise. 

It is a sign of rain if the cat washes her 
head behind her ears ; of bad weather when 
Puss sits with her tail to the fire. 

Spiders crawling on the wall denote rain. 

If a dog is seen eating green grass it is a 
sign of coming wet weather. 

36 Myths and Fables 

Hang up a snake skin for rain. 

If the grass should be thickly dotted in the 
morning with cobwebs of the ground spider, 
glistening with dew, expect rain. Some say 
it portends the exact opposite. This puts us 
in mind of Cato's quaint saying that " two 
auguries cannot confront each other without 

If the kettle should boil dry, it is a sure 
sign of rain. Very earnestly said a certain 
respectable, middle-aged housewife to me : 
2 Why, sir, sometimes you put twice as much 
water in the kettle without its boiling away." 

If the cattle go under trees when the 
weather looks threatening, there will be a 
shower. If they continue feeding, it will prob- 
ably be a steady downpour. 

A threatened storm will not begin, or the 
wind go down, until the turning of the tide 
to flood. Not only the people living along 
shore, but all sailors believe this. 

Closely related to the above is the belief 
that a sick person will not die until ebb tide. 

Weather Lore 37 

When that goes out, the life goes with it. I 
have often heard this said in some seaports 
in Maine. 

These popular notions, concerning the influ- 
ence of the tides, be it said, have come down 
to us from a remote antiquity. The Pythago- 
rean philosopher, indeed, stoutly affirmed that 
the ebbing and flowing of the sea was nothing 
less than the respiration of the world itself, 
which was supposed to be a living monster, 
alternately drawing in water, instead of air, 
and heaving it out again. 

Again, an old salt, who had perhaps heard 
of Galileo's theory, once tried to illustrate to 
me the movement of the tides by comparing 
it to that of a man turning over in bed, and 
dragging the bedclothes with him, his notion 
being that as the world turned round, the 
waters of the ocean were acted upon in a like 

To resume the catalogue : — 

A bee was never caught in the rain — that 
is, if the bee scents rain, it keeps near the 

38 Myths and Fables 

hive. If, on the contrary, it flies far, the day 
will be fair. The ancients believed this in- 
dustrious little creature possessed of almost 
human intelligence. 

When the squirrels lay in a greater store of 
nuts than usual, expect a cold winter. 

If the November goose-bone be thick, so 
will the winter weather be unusually severe. 
This prediction appears as regularly as the 
return of the seasons. 

Many meteors falling presage much snow. 

"If it rains before seven, 
It will clear before eleven." 

" You can tell before two. 
What it's going to do. 1 ' 

There will be as many snow-storms in a 
winter as there are days remaining in the 
month after the first fall of snow. 

Children are told, of the falling snow, that 
the old woman, up in the sky, is shaking her 

High tides on the coast of Maine are con- 
sidered a sign of rain. 

Weather Lore 39 

When the muskrat builds his nest higher 

than usual, it is a sign of a wet spring, as this 

means high water in the ponds and streams. 

"A winter fog 
Will kill a dog," 

which is as much as to say that a thaw, with 
its usual accompaniments of fog and rain, is 
invariably productive of much sickness. 

Winter thunder is to old folks death, and 
to young folks plunder. 

" Sound, travelling far and wide, 
A stormy day will betide." 

Do business with men when the wind is 
northwest — that signifies that a clear sky and 
bracing air are most conducive to alertness 
and energy ; yet Hamlet says : " I am but mad 
north-northwest; when the wind is southerly 
I know a hawk from a handsaw." 

That was certainly a pretty conceit, no 
matter if it has been lost sight of, that the 
sun always dances upon Easter morning. 

One of the oldest of weather rhymes runs 
in this wise : — 

40 Myths and Fables 

" Evening gray and morning red, 
Brings down rain on the traveller's head ; 
Evening red and morning gray, 
Sends the traveller on his way." 

Science having finally accepted what vulgar 
philosophy so long maintained, namely that 
the moon exerts an undoubted influence upon 
the tides of the sea, all the various popular 
beliefs concerning her influence upon the 
weather that have been wafted to us over, 
we know not how many centuries, find ready 
credence. If the mysterious luminary could 
perform one miracle, why not others? Thus 
reasoned the ignorant multitude. 

The popular fallacy that the moon is made 
of "greene cheese," as sung by Heywood, and 
repeated by that mad wag Butler, in "Hudibras," 
may be considered obsolete, we suppose, but in 
our youth we have often heard this said, a.nd, 
it is to be feared, half believed it. 

Cutting the hair on the waxing of the moon, 
under the delusion that it will then grow 
better, is another such. 

Weather Lore 41 

As preposterous as it may seem, our worthy 
ancestors, or some of them at least, firmly 
believed that the Man in the Moon was veri- 
table flesh and blood. 

In " Curious Myths," Mr. Baring-Gould re- 
fers the genesis of this belief to the Book of 
Numbers. 1 

An old Scotch rhyme runs thus : — 

"A Saturday's change and a Sunday's prime, 
Was nivver gude mune in nae man's time." 

If the horns of the new moon are but 
slightly tipped downward, moderate rains may 
be looked for ; if much tipped, expect a down- 
pour. On the other hand, if the horns are 
evenly balanced, it is a sure sign of dry 
weather. Some one says in " Adam Bede," 
" There's no likelihood of a drop now an' the 
moon lies like a boat there." The popular 
notion throughout New England is that when 
the new moon is turned downward, it cannot 
hold water. Hence the familiar sayings of a 
wet or a dry moon. 

J Chap. 15, 32 V. 

42 Myths and Fables 

If the Stormy Petrel (Mother Cary's Chicken) 
is seen following in the wake of a ship at sea, 
all sailors know that a storm is brewing, and 
that it is time to make all snug on board. As 
touching this superstition, I find the following 
entry in the Rev. Richard Mather's Journal ; 
" This day, and two days before, we saw 
following ye ship a little bird, like a swallow, 
called a Petterill, which they say doth follow 
ships against foule weather." 

Therefore, in honest Jack's eyes, to shoot 
one of these little wanderers of the deep, not 
only would invite calamity, but would instantly 
bring down a storm of indignation on the 
offender's head. And why, indeed, should 
this state of mind in poor Jack be wondered 
at, when he hears so much about kraaken, 
mermaids, sea-serpents, and the like chimera, 
and when those who walk the quarter-deck 
readily lend themselves to the fostering of his 
delusions ? 

A mare's tail in the morning is another 
sure presage of foul weather. This consists 

Weather Lore 43 

in a long, low-hanging streak of murky vapor, 
stretching across a wide space in the heavens, 
and looking for all the world like the trailing 
smoke of some ocean steamer, as is some- 
times seen long before the steamer heaves 
in sight. The mare's tail is really the black 
signal of the advancing storm, drawn with 
a smutty hand across the fair face of the 
heavens. Hence the legend, — 

"Mackerel sky and mare's tails 
Make lofty ships carry low sails. ,, 

If the hedgehog comes out of his hole on 
Candlemas Day, 1 and sees his shadow, he 
goes back to sleep again, knowing that the 
winter is only half over. Hence the familiar 
prediction : — 

1 Candlemas Day (2 February) is observed as a festival day 
by the Roman Catholics, and still holds a place in the calendar 
of the Episcopal Church. It is kept in memory of the purifi- 
cation of the Virgin, who presented the infant Jesus in the 
Temple. A number of candles were lighted, it is said in 
memory of Simeon's song (Luke ii, 32), "A light to lighten the 
Gentiles." Hence the name of Candlemas. Edward VI. for-, 
bade the practice of lighting the churches in 1548, 

44 Myths and Fables 

" If Candlemas day is fair and clear, 
There'll be two winters in the year." 

The same thing is said of the bear, in Ger- 
many, as of the hedgehog or woodchuck. 

The Germans say that the badger peeps 
out of his hole on Candlemas Day, and if he 
finds snow on the ground, he walks abroad ; 
but if the sun is shining, he draws back into 
his hole again. At any rate, the habits of 
this predatory little beast are considered next 
to infallible by most country-folk in New 

A similar prediction carries this form : On 
Candlemas Day just so far as the sun shines 
in, just so far will the snow blow in. 

"As far as the sun shines in on Candlemas Day 
So far will the snow blow in before May : 
As far as the snow blows in on Candlemas Day 
So far will the sun shine in before May." 

From these time-honored prophecies is de- 
duced the familiar warning : — 

" Just half your wood and half your hay 
Should be remaining on Candlemas Day." 

Weather Lore 45 

An old Californian predicted a dry season 
for the year 1899, because he had noticed 
that the rattlesnakes would not bite of late, 
a never failing sign of drought which few, 
we fancy, would feel inclined to put to the 

An unusually cold winter is indicated by 
the greater thickness of apple skins, corn 
husks, and the like. 

The direction from which the wind is blow- 
ing usually indicates what the weather will 
be for the day, — wet or dry, hot or cold, — but 
here is a rhymed prediction which puts all 
such prophecies to shame : — 

" The West wind always brings wet weather 
The East wind wet and cold together, 
The South wind surely brings us rain, 
The North wind blows it back again. 

If the sun in red should set, 

The next day surely will be wet ; 

If the sun should set in gray, 

The next will be a rainy day." 

This falls more strictly in line with many 
of the so-called signs which, like the old 

46 Myths and Fables 

woman's indigo, if good would either sink 
or swim, she really didn't know which ; or 
like the predictions of the old almanac makers, 
who so shrewdly foretold rain in April, and 
snow in December. 


"Authorized by her grandam." — Macbeth. 

FF you sneeze before breakfast, you will have 
■*• company before dinner. 

If you pick the common red field lily, it will 
make you freckled. 

A spark in the candle denotes a letter in the 
post office for you. 

To hand a cup with two spoons in it to any 
one, is a sign of a coming wedding in the family. 

If a cat is allowed to get into bed with an 
infant, the child will be strangled by the animal 
sucking its breath, or by lying across its chest. 

If my right ear burns, some one is talking 
about me, hence the familiar saying, " I'll make 


48 Myths and Fables 

his ears tingle for him." Pliny records this 
omen. Also in " Much Ado About Nothing," 
Beatrice exclaims, " What fire is in mine 
ears ! " 

When the right ear itches or burns, the per- 
son so affected will shortly cry ; when it is the 
left, he will laugh. One version runs in this 

wise : — 

" Left or right 

Good at night." 

Late blossoming of vines or fruit trees will be 
followed by much sickness. This probably rests 
upon the theory that a mild autumn will be a 
sickly autumn, which is the same thing as say- 
ing that unseasonable weather is pretty sure to 
be unwholesome weather. The same prediction 
is expressed by the old saying that " A green 
Christmas makes a fat church-yard." Both pre- 
dictions agree with the observations of medical 

A spoon in the saucer and another in the cup 
denote that the person using them will be a 
spendthrift, and probably come to want ; but two 

Signs of all Sorts 49 

spoons to one dish of ice-cream denote foresight 
and true thrift. 

" Sing before you eat, 
Cry before you sleep." 

Or, if you sing before breakfast, you will cry 
before supper. 

Pull out one gray hair, and ten will grow in 
its place. 

Should you happen to let drop your scissors, 
or other sharp instrument, and they should stick 
upright in the floor, it is a sign that you will 
soon see a stranger. 1 

Dropping the dishcloth has the same signifi- 

Two cowlicks, growing on the same person's 
head, denote that he will eat his bread in two 
kingdoms — that is, be a traveller in foreign 

Should a cow swallow her cud, the animal will 
die, unless another cud be immediately given her. 

Hard-hack 2 was thus named by the early col- 

1 See the ominous import of this farther on. 

2 The white and purple spiraea. 


50 Myths and Fables 

onists, who declared that the tough stalk turned 
the edge of the mower's scythe. 

If you see a white horse, you will immediately 
after see a red-haired woman. 

Bubbles gathering on top of a cup of coffee 
or chocolate indicate, if they cluster at the 
middle, or "form an island" in prophetic par- 
lance, money coming to you. If, however, the 
bubbles gather at the sides of the cup, you will 
not get the money. 

Two chairs, placed by accident back to back, 
are a sign of a stranger. 

Coming in at one door, and immediately 
going out at another, has the same meaning. 

A tea-stem floating in the tea-cup — a common 
thing before the day of tea-strainers — also fore- 
shadows the coming of a stranger. Old people 
say " you must butter his head and throw him 
under the table, if the charm is to work." A 
tea-leaf means the same thing, its length denot- 
ing whether the stranger will be short or tall. 

To let fall your fork is a sure sign that you 
are going to have a caller on that very evening. 

Signs of all Sorts 51 

or, as the girls declare, have "a beau." A very 
estimable lady said when telling me this, that 
when she was a young girl she never had that 
accident happen to her that she did not imme- 
diately get ready for a caller ; and she added that 
seldom, or never, was this sign known to fail. 

If a young girl has the nosebleed, it is a sign 
that she is in love. 1 

If your nose itches you will either 

" See a stranger, 
Kiss a fool, 
Or be in danger." 

If your left hand itches, you will shortly 
receive money; if it is the right hand, get 
ready to shake hands with a stranger. 

A ringing or " dumb-bell " in the ear denotes 
that you may expect startling news of some 

A swarm of bees in June is worth a silver 

Four persons meeting in a crowded place 
and shaking hands cross-wise, is a sign that 

1 For the ill omens of nosebleed, see Chapter ix. 

52 Myths and Fables 

one of the party will be married within the 

Should you meet a person on the stairs, one 
or the other must go back, or some misfortune 
will happen to both. 

If you should fail to fold up your napkin after 
a meal at which you are a guest, you will not 
again be invited to that table. 

Think of the devil and he is at your elbow. 
The point of this robust saying is now much 
softened into " think of some one and he is at 
your elbow " ; but it seems at first to have had 
reference to an enemy or to one you would rather 
avoid. The saying is quite common to-day. 

A very old rhyme about the way in which 
one wears out a shoe, runs in this way : — 

u Tip at the toe, live to see woe, 
Wear at the side, live to be a bride, 
Wear at the ball, live to spend all, 
Wear at the heel, live to save a deal." 

Even the days of the week possess peculiar 
significance to the future welfare of the new- 
born infant : — 

Signs of all Sorts 53 

u Sunday's child is full of grace, 
Monday's child is fair of face, 
Tuesday's child is solemn and sad, 
Wednesday's child is merry and glad ; 
Thursday's child is inclined to thieving, 
Friday's child is free in giving : 
Saturday's child works hard for his living." 

This saying is familiar to every one : — 

"Whistling girls and crowing hens 
Always come to no good ends." 

Or, as they say it in the Old Country : — 

"A whistling woman and crowing hen, 
Are neither fit for God nor men." 

An old woman, skilled in such matters, 
declares that when vagrant cats begin to 
collect around the back-yards, "it's a sure 
sign the winter's broken." 

Whistling to keep one's courage up, or for 
a wind, are rather in the nature of an invoca- 
tion to some occult power than a sign. Sail- 
ors, it is well known, have a superstitious fear 
of whistling at sea, believing it will bring on 
a storm. 

54 Myths and Fables 

Yawning is said to be catching. Well, if 
it is not catching, it comes so near to being 
so, that most persons accept it as a fact ; and 
laugh as we may, daily experience goes to 
confirm it as such, and must continue to do 
so until some more satisfactory explanation is 
found than we yet know of. 



" The nights are wholesome ; then no planets strike, 
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm." 

/^F the things closely associated in the 
^-^ popular mind with good or bad luck, 
what in short one may or may not do to obtain 
the favors or turn aside the frowns of fortune, 
the list is a long one. We say " God bless 
me ! " when we sneeze, as an invocation to 
good luck. Then, for instance, it is considered 
lucky to find a cast-off horseshoe, or a four- 
leaved clover, or to see the new moon over 
the right shoulder, or to have a black cat in 
the house, especially one that comes to you 
of its own accord. Then there also is the 


56 Myths and Fables 

lucky pocket-piece, which the owner will sel- 
dom part with, although I once heard a man 
loudly lamenting that he had "sold his luck" 
by doing so. There also is the lucky-bone 
of a haddock, 1 the wishing-bone of a chicken, 
the lucky base-ball bat, and, what is still more 
strange, the lucky spider, if one happens to be 
found on one's clothes, — though this will hardly 
prevent, we imagine, all womankind from 
screaming out to the nearest person to come 
and brush off the hateful little creature. Many 
will not kill a spider on account of this belief, 
which is supposed to be derived from the 
romantic story of King Robert Bruce and the 

The familiar saying, " There's luck in odd 
numbers," lingers in song and story. Does 
not Rory O'More say so? Odd numbers or 
combinations of odd numbers are almost inva- 
riably chosen in buying lottery tickets. More- 

1 It was commonly believed that the haddock bore the mark 
of St. Peter's thumb, ever since that saint took the tribute 
penny out of a fish of that species. 

Charms to Good Luck 57 

over, they have received the highest offi- 
cial sanction for a very long time. In the 
"Art of Navigation," printed in the year 
1705, the following rule is laid down for 
firing salutes by ships of the royal navy: "to 
salute with an odd number of guns, the which 
are to be answered with fit correspondency. 
And the number of odd guns is so punctually 
observed, that whenever they are given even 
'tis received for an infallible sign that either 
the captain or some noted officer is dead in 
the voyage." 

The above rule or custom has held good to 
this day. In the United States the prescribed 
salute to the President is twenty-one guns; 
seventeen to the Vice-President, and so on in 
descending scale, according to rank, in the 
several branches of the civil, military, and 
naval service. Medicines are often taken an 
odd number of times, though not invariably, 
as they once were. A hen is always set on 
an odd number of eggs, although I could 
never find any one who could give any other 

58 Myths and Fables 

reason than custom for it. What Biddy does 
when she "steals her own nest" is not ascer- 

It appears from such data as we have been 
able to gather that the number Three and its 
multiple Nine were formerly held to be indis- 
pensable to the successful working of the 
magician's arts. In " Macbeth," the weird 
sisters mutter the dark incantation : — 

" Thrice to thine, and thrice to mine, 
And thrice again to make up nine I — 
Peace! — the charm 1 s wound up." 

And yet again, when concocting their 
charmed hell-broth, while awaiting the com- 
ing of the ambitious thane to learn his fate 
of them, the mystic rite begins by declaring 
the omens propitious : — 

" 1 Witch. Thrice the brinded cat hath mewed. 
2 Witch. Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined." 

With the Romans, three handfuls of salt cast 
over a dead body had all the virtues of a fu- 
neral. Pirates were formerly hung at low-water 

Charms to Good Luck 59 

mark and left hanging there until three tides 
had\overflowed them. Shakespeare makes Fal- 
staff say : "This is the third time; I hope good 
luck lies in odd numbers." Even now, the cab- 
alistic phrase " third time never fails," prompts 
the twice unsuccessful candidate for fortune's 
favors to renewed and more vigorous effort. In 
short, there seems to be no end to the virtues 
inherent in odd numbers. 

But as all rules have their exceptions, so with 
this prophetic rule of three, the fates would 
seem to have ordained that it might be made 
to work both ways. Simply by keeping one's 
eyes and ears open one sees and hears many 
things. An enterprising news-gatherer jots down 
a bit of superstition touching the fateful side of 
the rule in question that came to him in this 
easy sort of way : " I heard," he says, " a most 
sensible person, the other day, exclaim because 
Queen Victoria had been obliged twice to post- 
pone her trip to the south of France, once on 
account of the unsettled state of affairs over 
there, and again because of the unsettled state 

60 Myths and Fables 

of the weather. ' The third time will be fatal 
to her,' added this cheerful individual; 'you 
just mark my words.' " 

It is nevertheless true, however, that the cab- 
alistic number Thirteen stands quite alone, so 
far as we are informed, as the sombre herald of 
misfortune. But here, as elsewhere, the excep- 
tion only goes to prove the rule. 

A gentleman holding a lucrative office under 
the government once told me that two of his 
clerks wore iron finger rings, because they were 
supposed to be lucky. It is a matter of gen- 
eral knowledge that certain gems or precious 
stones are worn on scarf-pins, watch-chains, fin- 
ger rings, or other articles of personal adorn- 
ment solely on account of the prevailing belief 
in their efficacy to ward off sickness or disease, 
prevent accidents, keep one's friends, — in short, 
to bring the wearer good luck. This branch of 
the subject will be more fully treated of presently. 

More unaccountable still is the practice of 
wearing or carrying about on one's person a 
rabbit's foot as a talisman, that timid little 

Charms to Good Luck 61 

animal always having been intimately associ- 
ated with the arts of the magician and sorcerer. 
But it must always be bunny's hind foot. The 
insatiate passion for novelty, we understand, 
has now installed a turkey's claw in the room of 
the rabbit's foot, to some extent, showing that 
even credulity itself is the obedient slave of 
fashion. Of course neither the rabbit's foot 
nor turkey's claw is worn in its natural rough 
state, but under the jeweller's skilful hands, 
tipped with gold or silver and set with the 
wearer's favorite gem (topaz, amethyst, or 
whatever it may be), the charm, or mascot, 
becomes an ornament to be worn, either sus- 
pended from the neck, the wrist, or belt, or as 
a clasp for the cape. The practice of wearing 
a caul, 1 or an amulet blessed by the priest, 

1 It is deemed lucky to be born with a caul or membrane 
over the face. In France etrene coiffee signifies that a person 
is extremely fortunate. It is believed to be an infallible protec- 
tion against drowning, and under that idea is frequently adver- 
tised for sale in the newspapers and purchased by seamen. If 
bought by lawyers they become as eloquent as Demosthenes or 
Cicero, and thereby get a great deal of practice. — Fielding. 

62 Myths and Fables 

clearly denotes that here rich and poor meet on 
common ground. It is not proposed, however, 
to treat of those beliefs which may be directly 
traced to the teachings of a particular church, 
or that have become so embedded in the faith it 
inculcates as to be an inseparable part of it. 
The Protestant world, or that part of it we live 
in, is intrenched in no such stronghold. 

To continue the catalogue : — 

A black cat, without a single white hair, is a 
witch of the sort that brings luck to the house. 
Keeping one also insures to unmarried females 
of the family plenty of sweethearts. ' 

A branch of the mountain ash kept in the 
house, or hung out over the door, will keep the 
witches out. 

Good luck is frequently crystallized in certain 
uncouth but expressive sayings, such, for ex- 
ample, as " nigger luck," " lucky strike," or 
" Cunard luck," referring to the remarkable 
exemption of a certain transatlantic steamship 
company from loss of life by disasters to its 
ships. This particular saying has been quite 

Charms to Good Luck 63 

frequently heard of late in consequence of the 
really providential escape of the steamship 
Pavonia, of that line, from shipwreck, while on 
her voyage from Liverpool to Boston. What 
was uppermost in the minds of some of the 
passengers and crew may easily be inferred 
from the following extract, with which a rela- 
tion of the good ship's fortunate escape from 
foundering concludes : — 

" The change of the moon passed at 9.30 a.m., 
and the light breeze changed at almost the same 
moment. The gulls were sitting on the water, 
which was a sign of luck, according to the 
sailors. Then we discovered a lot of ' Mother 
Carey's chickens ' near the ship, which was also 
a lucky omen, so we felt that Friday was to be 
our lucky day." 

Unquestionably, the horseshoe is the favorite 
symbol of good luck the world over. You will 
seldom see a man so much in a hurry that he 
will not stop to pick one up. Although the 
iron of which the shoe is fashioned is no longer 
endowed with magic power, as it once was, no 

64 Myths and Fables 

sooner has it been beaten by the smith into the 
form of a shoe than, presto, it becomes a power 
to conjure with. Popular dictum even prescribes 
that the shoe must be placed with the prongs up- 
ward or its virtue will be lost. It must, moreover, 
be a cast-off shoe or the charm will not work. 

The luck of the horseshoe has become pro- 
verbial. We are now dealing with facts of 
common knowledge. Indeed, we do not see 
how any form of superstition could be more 
fully or more freely recognized in the everyday 
affairs of life. Even those who scout the super- 
stition itself, as a thing unworthy of serious 
attention, do not hesitate to avail themselves of 
its popularity for their own ends, thus giving it 
a still wider currency. In short, this hoary 
superstition is thriftily turned to account by 
every imaginable device to tickle the fancy or 
to turn a penny, although in being thus em- 
ployed it has quite cut loose from its ancient 

Thus it is that we now see the horseshoe 
stamped on monograms, on Christmas- cards, on 

Charms to Good Luck 65 

book covers, or even used in the title of a book, 
most effectively, as in the case of " Horseshoe 
Robinson." It also is seen worked into floral 
designs to be hung above the bride's head, at a 
wedding, or reverently laid upon the last resting- 
place of the dead. Surely superstition could go 
no farther. 

The horseshoe has also come to be a favorite 
trade-mark with manufacturers and dealers in all 
sorts of wares. It is elaborately worked up in 
gold and silver charms for those who would 
rather be lucky than not, regardless of the 
original dictum that, to be serviceable, the shoe 
must be made of iron and nothing else. There 
lies before me, as I write this, the advertisement 
of a certain farrier, who rests his plea for custom 
upon the fact that as horseshoes bring luck to 
the purchaser, therefore every horse should be 
shod with his shoes. A certain horseshoers' 
union attributes its victory over the employers, 
in the matter of shorter hours, to the efficacy of 
its trade symbol. And not long ago the fortunate 
escape of Boston from a disastrous conflagration 

66 Myths and Fables 

was heralded in a daily paper with a cut of a 
horseshoe prefixed to the account. 

Of late years, too, the horseshoe has grown 
to be a favorite symbol in the house, — a sort 
of household fetich, as it were, — if not because 
of any faith in its traditional ability to/ bring 
good luck, one is at loss to know why a 
piece of old iron should be so conspicuously 
hung up in the houses of rich and poor 

The horseshoe was always, also, the favorite 
emblem of the tavern and inn, in all countries. 
Such signs as the " Three Horseshoes," once 
swung in Boston streets. In Samuel Sewall's 
Diary we find the following entry : " Sanctifie 
to me ye deth of old Mrs. Glover who kept 
the 3 horse shoes, and who dyed ye last 
night." Sewall, who lived in the immediate 
neighborhood, leaves us in the dark as to 
whether he mourned most for Mrs. Glover or 
her exhilarating mixtures. 

Returning to its proper place in folk-lore, 
I myself have seen the horsehoe nailed to 

Charms to Good Luck 6j 

the bowsprit of a vessel, over house and barn 
doors, and even to bedsteads. In the country, 
its supposed virtues continue to hold much of 
their old sway, while among sailors a belief 
in them has suffered little, if any, loss since 
the day of Nelson and of the Victory. 
On some very old country house, as old as 
the witchcraft times, one can still see the 
shape of a horseshoe wrought in the brick- 
work of the chimneys, as well as one nailed 
above the door, thus cleverly closing every 
avenue against the entrance of witches. But 
of all the odd caprices connected with the 
use of the horseshoe, that related of Samuel 
Dexter, of Boston, must carry off the palm 
for oddity. He, being dissatisfied with his 
minister, Dr. Codman, nailed a horseshoe to 
his pew door, and then nailed up the pew 

The origin of this remarkable superstition 
is involved in the obscurity of past ages. It 
is usually attributed to the virtue of cold iron 
to keep witches out, through their inability to 

68 Myths and Fables 

step over it, and is probably allied to that 
other superstition about the driving of iron 
nails into the walls of Roman houses, with a 
like object. Beyond that point its meaning 
grows more and more obscure. The con- 
junction, so essential to perfect the charm, 
between iron in any form and the horse, is 
said to have come from the magical prop- 
erties attributed to the animal by the ancients, 
in whose mythology the horse always plays 
an important part. King Richard, on Bos- 
worth field, offers his kingdom for a horse, 
and Poor Richard, in his Almanac, tells us 
how a man lost his life for want of a nail 
in his horse's shoe. Butler, from whose pen 
figures of speech gush forth like water from 
a never-failing spring, declares that evil spirits 
are chased away by dint 

"of sickle, horseshoe, hollow flint." 

In Gay's fable of " The Old Woman and her 

Cats," the alleged witch laments that 

" Straws laid across my path retard ; 
The horseshoes nail'd each threshold's guard. 11 

Charms to Good Luck 69 

Turning now from the merely passive to 
the active agency on the part of the seeker 
after fortune's favors, we enter upon a no less 
marvellous, but vastly more attractive, field. 
Here is something that is tried every day : — 

Of two persons breaking apart the wishing- 
bone of a chicken before forming a wish, the 
one getting the longer piece is assured of the 
fulfilment of his or her wish ; the shorter 
piece bodes disappointment. 

Another way to test fickle fortune is to form 
a wish while a meteor is falling ; if one can do 
so the desire will be gratified. This saying 
would be no bad symbol of the importance of 
seizing a golden opportunity ere it has escaped 
us. As the immortal Shakespeare says: — 

" There is a tide in the affairs of men 
Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. 1 ' 

If a load of hay goes by, make a wish on it 
and your wish will be gratified, provided you 
instantly look another way. But the charm 
will surely be broken if, like Lot's wife, you 
should look back. 

jo Myths and Fables 

To see the new moon with the old in her 

arms, a much more common thing by the way 

in this country than in England, is considered 

lucky; as runs an old couplet: — 

" Late, late yestreen, I saw the new moone 
WT the auld moone in hir armes." 

Here is another instance wherein the augu- 
ries differ. An old sea-rhyme founded on the 
same thing adds this prediction : — 

" And if we gang to sea, master, 
I fear we'll come to harm." 

It is also accounted good luck to see the new 
moon over the right shoulder, especially if you 
instantly feel in your pocket and find money 
there, as your luck thereby will be prodigiously 
increased, but you must take care instantly to 
turn the money over in your pocket. 

Burglars are said to carry a piece of coal, or 
some other object, about with them for luck. 

Upon getting out of bed in the morning, 
always put the right foot foremost. Slightly 
altered, this injunction has been turned into 
the familiar saying : " Put your best foot fore- 

Charms to Good Luck 71 

most." Dr. Johnson was so particular about 
this rule, that if he happened to plant his left 
foot on the threshold of a house, he would turn 
back, and reenter right foot foremost. Simi- 
larly, one must always begin dressing the right 
foot first. An exception occurs to us : in mili- 
tary tactics it is always the left foot that goes 

Professional gamblers are firm believers in 
the element of luck, the world over. Accord- 
ing to their dictum, a youth who has never 
gambled before, is sure to be lucky at his first 
essay at play. Finding a piece of money or 
carrying a dice in the pocket also insures good 
fortune, they say. 

To secure luck at cards or to change your 
luck, when it is going against you, you must 
walk three times around your chair or else 
blow upon the cards with your breath. Beyond 
reasonable doubt you will be a winner. Not so 
very long ago, it was the custom for women to 
offer to sit cross-legged in order to procure luck 
at cards for their friends. I have seen players 

72 Myths and Fables 

spit on their hands for the same purpose. Sit- 
ting cross-legged, with the fingers interlaced, 
was formerly considered the correct magical 

The hair will grow better if cut on the 
waxing of the moon. This notion is probably 
based on the symbolism of the moon's waxing 
and waning, as associated with growing and 
declining nature. 

A Newfoundland fisherman to-day spits on 
the first piece of silver given him for luck. In 
the Old Country this was also a common prac- 
tice among the lower class of hucksters, upon 
receiving the price of the first goods sold on 
that day, which they call "hansell." 1 Boxers 
often spit into their hands before engaging in 
a set-to, as also did the schoolboys of my own 
age, who thought it a charm to prevent the 

1 Edward Winslow makes use of this word in speaking of 
an Indian who had been taken prisoner at Plymouth, and con- 
fined in the fort newly built there. " So he was locked in a 
chain to a staple in the court of guard and there kept. Thus 
was our fort handselled, this being the first day, as I take it, that 
ever any watch was there kept." — • Winslow's " Relation." 

Charms to Good Luck 73 

master's ferule from hurting them as much as 
it otherwise would, but later found out their 

In some country districts the belief still holds 
that if a live frog can be passed through a sick 
cow the animal will get well, but the frog must 
be alive and kicking, or the charm will not 

Salt was formerly the first thing taken into 
a new house, in the belief that the occupants 
would never want for bread in that house. 

" Happy is the corpse that the rain rains on." 
This is a sort of corollary to the belief, that it is 
a fortunate sign if the sun shines on a newly 
wedded couple. 

The long established custom of laying the 
head of the dead to the east is probably a sur- 
vival of the ancient sun-worship. It is traced 
back to the Phoenicians. In Shakespeare's 
" Cymbeline " we find this reference to it : — 

"We must lay his head to the east : 
My father hath reason for't. 1 ' 

We are reminded that ropes are coiled, 

74 Myths and Fables 

cranks turned, and eggs beaten with the sun. 
One writer upon Folk-lore : remarks that 
passing the bottle at table from right to left, 
instead of being merely proper form, really 
comes from this ancient superstition. 

Telling the bees of a death in the family was 
formerly a quite general practice, if indeed it 
has entirely died out. I know that it has been 
practised in New England within my own 
recollection. It was the belief that a failure to 
so inform the bees would lead to their dwin- 
dling away and dying, according to some inter- 
preters, or to their flying away, according to 
others. The manner of proceeding was to 
knock with the house-key three times against 
the hives, at the same time telling the noisy 
inmates that their master or mistress, as the 
case might be, was dead. One case is reported 
where an old man actually sung a psalm in 
front of some hives. In New England the 
hives were sometimes draped in black. The 
semi-sacred character with which antiquity 

1 Mr. Coxe. 

Charms to Good Luck 75 

invested this wonderful little insect sufficiently 
accounts for the practice. Mr. Whittier has 
some verses about it in " Home Ballads." 
Beating upon a pot or kettle when bees are 
swarming comes from Virgil's injunction, in the 
like case, to raise tinkling sounds. 

Laying a plate for a dead person was in pur- 
suance of the belief that, if it were omitted, one 
death in the family would speedily be followed 
by another. 

The Passing Bell was originally instituted to 
drive away evil spirits, as well as to bespeak 
the prayers of all good Christians for a soul 
just leaving the body. Sitting up with a dead 
body originated in a like purpose. The former 
custom is dimly reflected in the tolling of the 
bell, the number of strokes indicating the age 
of the deceased. 

It is considered lucky to put on a garment 
wrong side out. I knew of a sea-captain who, 
on rising late in the morning of the day he was 
to sail, in his hurry, put on his drawers wrong 
side out. He said to his wife, with a laugh, 

j6 Myths and Fables 

that he would wear them so for luck. The 

ship in which he sailed was lost, with all on 

board, on the very same night ; and, as it turned 

out, the captain's mistake in putting on his 

clothes proved the means of identifying his 

mutilated remains when they were found on 

the beach the next morning. 

The trial to discover a witch, made use of 

by the circle of hysterical young girls in the 

time of the lamentable witchcraft terror, was to 

take a sieve and a pair of scissors or shears, 

stick the points of the shears in the wood of 

the sieve, and let two of them hold it balanced 

upright on the tips of their two fingers; then 

to ask St. Peter and St. Paul if a certain 

person, naming the one suspected, was a witch. 

If the right one was hit upon, the sieve would 

suddenly turn round. 

- As usual, Butler has something to say of this 

charm : — 

" Th' oracle of the sieve and shears 
That turns as certain as the spheres." 

Another similar charm is that of the Bible 

Charms to Good Luck yj 

and key. I do not learn of its being practised 
of late, though it has been put to the trial since 
I can remember, to discover a thief. It is done 
in this way. The key is placed upon a certain 
chapter in the Bible, after which the sacred 
book is shut and tightly fastened. Both are 
then hung to a nail. The name of the sus- 
pected person is then repeated three times by 
some one present, while another recites : — - 

" If it turns to thee, thou art the thief." 

Should the key have turned, the guilt is, of 
course, fixed upon the real criminal. 

Perhaps the manner of proceeding in such 
cases will be made clearer by the following 
relation of an actual test and its results, which 
took place in England some thirty years ago, 
and was given to the world as a curious in- 
stance of the degree of superstition then still 
existing in many parts of Great Britain. The 
account goes on to say that : " At the Cricklade 
Petty Sessions, in Wiltshire, a matron named 
Eliza Glass made a statement which was briefly 

j8 Myths and Fables 

as follows : Her father had lost or missed the 
sum of four pounds sterling, and suspicion, 
apparently unfounded, fell upon herself and 
her husband. The theory was formed that 
she had stolen a key, and thus her husband 
had obtained access to the money. It was 
determined to test the matter by the ' Bible 
and key.' The key was placed in the 
Bible on a particular place in Solomon's 
Song, the book closed and tied, and sus- 
pended by a string passed through the handle 
of the key, which protruded. One of the per- 
sons then thought of the suspected individual, 
the edge of the book turned toward the tester, 
and Mrs. Glass was adjudged guilty, or as she 
expressed it, ' upset.' All this was in her 
absence. But she knew that she was inno- 
cent, and when informed of her condemnation 
adopted tactics which others, more astute than 
she, had used before her ; she determined to 
impeach the credibility of the witness. Tak- 
ing a New Testament she put the key on the 
words ' Blessed are the pure in heart,' and sus- 

Charms to Good Luck 79 

pending the book as before, she was acquitted. 
Troubled by the apparent inconsistency of the 
Old and the New Testaments, she inquired of 
the magistrates what was to be done. They 
dismissed her with the remark that the bench 
could not interfere, and that, if innocent, she 
ought to be satisfied with the approval of a 
good conscience." 

Thrusting a knife between the leaves of a 
Bible to obtain a name for a child has not 
gone out of use even yet. 

The Wassail, or Loving Cup, is nothing but 
a relic of superstition, like drinking of healths, 
which custom, though no longer an indispensa- 
ble ceremonial on state occasions, as it has been 
within the century, lives yet in the spirit when- 
ever two friends happen to pledge each other 
in a social glass, silently or otherwise. The 
familiar " Here's to you ! " is neither more nor 
less than an invocation to good luck. 

Throwing an old shoe is perhaps most inti- 
mately associated, in the popular mind, with 
marriage ceremonies ; but it is also found doing 

80 Myths and Fables 

duty in other matters concerning personal ad- 
vantage or welfare, — as when, for instance, a 
person was going out to transact business, it 
was considered lucky to throw an old shoe 
after him. The same thing was done when 
servants were seeking or entering upon situa- 
tions. So far, the meaning of the act is simple 
enough, the controlling idea being to propitiate 

But if we should divest an old shoe of its 
assumed mystical property, in the name of that 
superior wisdom which our cultured class is 
supposed to possess, why would it not be as 
well, or even better, to throw a new pair after 
the candidate for good fortune ? But no, it must 
be an old shoe. And therein lies the whole 
philosophy of the matter. Unless we shall 
conform to the strict letter of this antiquated 
custom, there will be no luck about the house. 1 

In Ben Jonson's " Masque of Gypsies," we 
find this joyous couplet: — 

1 More concerning throwing the shoe will be found under 
" Marriage." 

Charms to Good Luck 81 

" Hurle after an old shoe, 
I'll be merry whate'er I do." 

Much to the same purport is Tennyson's : — 

"And wheresoe'er thou move, good luck 
Shall throw her old shoe after. ,, 

Apropos of beliefs affecting tradespeople of 
to-day, a newspaper clipping notes the follow- 
ing curious custom prevailing among the street 
pedlers and small storekeepers of New York, 
that has its origin with the Russian Jews. 
In Baxter Street the clothing men and in 
Division Street the milliners insist that a sale 
must be made before nine o'clock on Monday 
morning. No matter what the price and 
regardless of profit or loss, some piece of 
goods must be turned into coin by that hour ; 
otherwise the week will prove an unlucky one. 

On the other hand, there is a firm belief in 
some parts of New England that if you pay 
a bill on Monday, you will pay out money all 
the rest of the week. Hence, a very natural 
prejudice has arisen against paying a bill on 
that day. 

82 Myths and Fables 

Shipmasters are admittedly very superstitious 
folk. I once knew of a ship being named for 
a certain well-known cotton mill, because the 
said mill had always proved a lucky investment 
to its owners. Another instance came to my 
knowledge where a master, himself part owner, 
consulted a clairvoyant about naming his new 
ship. When the applicant timidly suggested 
the name of Pocahontas, it was promptly re- 
jected with the remark : " She was nothing but 
an old Indian woman. What do you want to 
name your vessel after her for ? Call her the 
Eagle Wing." And Eagle Wing it was. 

By way of reenforcing beliefs of this particu- 
lar kind, we find a newspaper writer saying, it 
is supposed in all sincerity, as otherwise his 
offence would be unpardonable : " Don't let 
us call any of the new ships for Uncle Sam's 
navy after the state of Maine. For my part, 
nothing would induce me to go aboard a new 
Maine or a new Portland. Like that watch 
of Captain Sigsbee, which has gone down into 
the ocean three times, the last plunge being 

Charms to Good Luck §3 

caused by the explosion of the Maine, a super- 
stitious person would prefer to be left at home." 
Whether or not the navy bureau shall listen to 
this plea, and change the name proposed for 
one of the new battle-ships, we fear that an 
ineffaceable stigma will hereafter rest upon 
these two names in the minds not alone of 
seafaring folk, but of the whole generation 
to whom the twin horrors which these names 
recall are so familiar. 

Still speaking of ships, I suppose few people 
are aware that until quite recently it was the 
custom, when a new ship was being built, to 
put a piece of money, silver or gold, under 
the heel of each mast. This custom at once 
recalls that traditional one of putting coins 
under the corner-stone of a new building ; but 
unlike that, the former act was in full accord 
with the prevalent notion that it would bring 
good luck to the vessel. 

I find that some people are strongly im- 
pressed with the idea that the month or day 
on which they were born will prove to them a 

84 Myths and Fables 

most critical one throughout their whole lives. 
Indeed, many strange coincidences of this sort 
have come to my notice. If a man has hap- 
pened to have a run of bad luck, he will often 
tell you that it is because he was born under an 
unlucky star; if, on the other hand, he has 
been unusually prosperous, it is commonly said 
of him that he was born to good luck. So wags 
the world ! 

As a fitting pendant to Jernegan's gold-from- 
sea-water scheme, Mrs. Howe's bank, and Mil- 
ler's syndicate, all fresh in the memory of every- 
one, comes the " lucky-box" humbug and its 
humiliating exposure, as I write. Upon the 
simple assurance that the possessor of this mar- 
vellous box (which could be carried in the 
pocket) would become instantly lucky, thousands 
were quickly sold, and the sale of more thou- 
sands was only stopped by the prompt interven- 
tion of the law ! 


"I'll do, I'll do, and I'll do." — Shakespeare. 

T TNDER this heading we shall first call at- 
^ tention to those plants having the alleged 
power to cure disease or protect from evil influ- 
ences. But before doing so, we would suggest 
that the reader turn to his standard or popular 
dictionary. He will there find the magical 
word "abracadabra" defined as a charm 
against fevers. 

In former times, the young, unrolled fronds 
of the male fern were supposed to guard the 
wearer against the Evil Eye or witchcraft ; and 
were not only worn by the credulous, but also 
given to the cattle as a charm against being 


86 Myths and Fables 

bewitched. 1 Moonwort fern had the reputation 
of being able to undo any lock, bolt, or bar, or 
even to draw nails from the shoe of any horse 
treading upon it ; and mistletoe to be a sure 
cure for the stone. 

The roots and flowers of violets are sup- 
posed to moderate anger, and to comfort and 
strengthen the heart — hence the significant 
name of heartsease. 

St.-John's-wort is still gathered in some parts 
of the Old Country on the Eve of St. John the 
Baptist, and hung out over the windows and 
doors, in accord with the ancient superstition 
that it would keep out all evil spirits, and shield 
the inmates from storms and other calamities. 

The belief associated with holly, now so gen- 
erally used for Christmas decoration, comes 
from Pliny, who writes that "the branches of 
this tree defend houses from lightning, and 
men from witchcraft." The common mullein 
was also held to have potency against hurts 
inflicted by wild beasts, or any evil coming 

1 Note the poetical reference in another chapter. 

Charms against Disease 87 

near ; and, similarly, the mountain ash was 
considered a protection against the Evil Eye, 
witches, and warlocks. So, also, a sea-onion 
was often hung in the doorway, with a like 

Another charm said to be very efficacious, 
though the writer has not tried it himself, yet 
having the sanction of age, is this : " Against a 
woman's chatter, taste at night, fasting, the 
root of a radish ; on that day the chatter cannot 
harm thee." 

Many of the myths concerning plants still 
exist in a modified form among us, although it 
is no doubt true that most people who decorate 
their houses with evergreens and holly at Christ- 
mastide are ignorant of the mysticism they so 
innocently perpetuate. Yet the Puritan fathers 
of New England were as utterly opposed to the 
decorating of houses of worship with " Christ- 
mas Greens," as to the observance of the day 
itself. Could they but revisit the scenes of 
their earthly labors during that season of un- 
stinted festivity and good cheer, when man's 

88 Myths and Fables 

heart is so warmed through the medium of his 
stomach, how shocked they would be to see 

" Gilt holly with its thorny pricks, 

And yew and box, with berries small, 
These deck the unused candlesticks, 
And pictures hanging by the wall." 

Beyond a doubt, most of the long-standing 
beliefs, touching the remedies for this or that 
ailment, belong to a time when the services of a 
skilled physician or surgeon were not to be had 
for love or money, or medical aid be instantly 
summoned to the sick man's bedside by tele- 
phone. This was especially true of the sparsely 
settled parts of the country, where every pru- 
dent housewife laid in a stock of roots and 
herbs against sickness in the family. Some of 
what nowadays are called "popular remedies," 
are found in Josselyn's " Rarities." Here are 
a few of them : — 

" The skin of a hawk is good to wear on the 
stomach for the pain and coldness of it. Lame- 
ness (or rheumatic pains) may be cured by lying 
on a bearskin. Seal oil being cast upon coals 

Charms against Disease 89 

will bring women out of their mother fits." 
The white cockle-shell was very good to stanch 
blood. For a rattlesnake bite, "their hearts 
swallowed fresh, is a good antidote against their 
Venom, and their liver (the Gall taken out) 
bruised and applied to their Bitings is a present 
Remedy — " a clear proof, it seems to us, that 
the theory of similia similibus curantur, did not 
originate with Dr. Koch, or even with the justly 
eminent Professor Pasteur. 

But even the wonderful advance made by 
medical science is powerless to eradicate the 
superstitions concerning disease, which live and 
thrive in spite of progress, like the noxious 
weeds that baffle all the farmer's vigilance. 
Then, there is a considerable constituency who, 
after making a trial of the regular school of 
medicine, to no avail, naturally fall back upon 
the flotsam and jetsam of bygone times, as a 
drowning man is said to grasp at a straw. As 
regards the former statement it may be asserted, 
as of personal knowledge, that inherited dis- 
eases, such as humors, scrofula, fits and the like, 

90 Myths and Fables 

and even birthmarks, in many parts of the coun- 
try, are still looked upon and talked about, not 
as a misfortune, but as a visitation upon the 
family so afflicted. I once heard one of these 
unfortunates described as "that fitty man." 

The advent of Sirius, or the dog-star, was 
formerly supposed to exert an occult influence 
upon poor humanity. In that critical season all 
people were advised to look carefully to their 
diet, to shun all broiled, salted, and strong 
meats, and to drink small beer and such other 
liquors as aids to digestion. 

As touching those natural objects having 
reputed curative properties or virtues, perhaps 
the common horsechestnut is the most familiar, 
for the widespread belief in its power to charm 
away the rheumatism. Several gentlemen- of 
my acquaintance habitually carry this magical 
nut on their persons, and one was actually found 
in the pocket of a drowned man while this chap- 
ter was being written. Yet I have known those 
who preferred the potato. A gentleman to 
whom I happened to mention the subject one 

Charms against Disease 91 

day, to my profound surprise, immediately drew 
forth a healthy-looking tuber of large size, 
which he emphatically asserted to be the only 
thing that had ever relieved a severe attack of 
rheumatism. I have also known nutmegs to be 
perforated, and hung round the neck, for a simi- 
lar purpose. 

Wearing eel-skin garters is also more or less 
practised as a cure for the same complaint. 

Putting sulphur in the shoes is also highly 
commended as a cure for rheumatism. I have 
known the same thing done as a preventive 
against an attack of grippe. 

Plain or galvanized iron finger rings are also 
worn for their supposed property to cure the 

Another well-to-do business man gravely as- 
sured me that a nutmeg, suspended round the 
neck by a string, was a sure cure for boils 
" — and no mistake about it — " and strongly 
urged giving it a trial. 

Corns and warts likewise are cured by carry- 
ing a horsechestnut on the person. Another 

92 Myths and Fables 

way is to rub the wart with a copper coin, 
throwing the coin away immediately after. The 
person picking it up transfers the fungus to 
himself. Still another way is to first stick a pin 
in the wart, then to go and stick the same pin 
into an apple tree, though in England they say 
it must be an ash. The notion that such things 
were " catching " seems to have suggested, in a 
way to be easily understood, the theory of dis- 
ease transference, to common folk. With this 
view a puppy is sometimes put into the same 
bed with a sick child, in the belief that the sick- 
ness will pass from the child to the puppy, 
while both are asleep. A case, in which this 
remedy was tried, came to my knowledge very 

To return to the subject of warts, some coun- 
tryfolk highly recommend making the sign of 
the cross against the chimney-back with a piece 
of chalk, asserting that, as soon as the mark is 
covered with soot, the warts will go away. 
Others, equally skilled in this sort of cures, 
contend that if you steal some beans, and 

Charms against Disease 93 

secretly bury them in the ground the disagree- 
able excrescences will leave you. Should all 
else fail you must then sell your warts or corns 
to somebody. Who'll buy ? Who'll buy ? 

Should you have a decayed tooth extracted, 
the molar must instantly be thrown into the 
fire, or you will surely have a cat's tooth come 
in its place. To dream of losing your teeth 
is, by many, considered a sure sign of coming 
trouble. Jet, powdered and mixed with wine, 
was once thought to be a sure remedy for the 

Wearing a caul is a sure protection against 

One must not kiss a cat ; the doing so will 
expose one to catch some disease. 

Hostlers and stable boys believe that it 
keeps horses healthy to have a goat about 
the stable. 

A gold wedding-ring is believed to be a cure 
for sties. 

Wearing red yarn around the neck is es- 
teemed a prevention against nose-bleeding. 

94 Myths and Fabies 

Sticking your jack-knife into the head of 
the bed will prevent cramps. Another way 
is to put both your slippers by your bedside, 
bottoms up, before retiring for the night. 
Should you neglect this, the cramps will 
surely return. The gentleman who gave me 
this receipt, said he got it from his mother. 
The old way, as laid down in the books, was 
to lay out your shoes in the form of a cross, 
before retiring. 

In some country districts, a heavy growth 
of foliage is considered a certain forerunner 
of coming sickness. The blossoming of trees, 
in autumn, also forebodes an epidemic of sick- 

It is a matter of common knowledge, that 
tooth charmers continue to carry on a more 
or less lucrative trade in the country towns. 
" What did she do to you ? " was asked of a 
countryman who had just paid a visit to one 
of these cunning women, at the urgent solici- 
tation of a friend. "Do?" was the bewildered 
answer, " why, she didn't do nothing at all, 

Charms against Disease 95 

but just said over something to herself, and 
the pain was all gone in a minute." This 
person, like a great many others, had a rooted 
aversion to having a tooth " hauled," as he 
expressed it, and would have suffered untold 
tortures from an aching tooth, rather than 
have gone to a regular practitioner. One 
woman, in particular, whom I have in mind, 
enjoys a wide reputation in the neighborhood 
where she practises her healing art. She 
simply mutters some incantation, or spell, and 
presto! the most excruciating pain is conjured 
away ; so 'tis said. 

There is a very old belief touching the 
virtue of a halter, that has done service in 
hanging a criminal, to charm away the head- 
ache. Probably other powers are attributed 
to this barbarous instrument of death, for it 
is said to be a fact, that the negroes of the 
southern States will pay a great price for a 
piece of the hangman's noose, to be kept in 
the house, as a charm. 

The madstone is claimed to be a certain 

96 Myths and Fables 

remedy for the bite of rabid dogs, snake bites 
and the like. The wonderful cures effected 
by one of these magic stones, owned by a 
lady living in Mississippi (references being 
given to quite a number of well-known peo- 
ple, who had either tested the remarkable 
properties of this particular stone, or who 
had personal knowledge of the facts), went 
the rounds of the newspapers some years 
ago. Upon being applied to the wound or 
bite, the stone adhered to it until the virus 
was absorbed. It then fell off, and after 
being well cleaned, was again applied until 
it failed to hold. When this took place, the 
patient was considered out of danger. With 
this stone it was claimed that the bite of a 
mad dog could be cured at any time before 
hydrophobia had set in. 

A similar case is reported from Virginia, 
with details that leave no doubt of the honesty 
of the principals concerned. 

This was the famous Upperville madstone, 
which has been in the hands of the Fred 

Charms against Disease 97 

family for over one hundred and fifty years. 
As its name indicates, the peculiar property of 
this stone is its apparent appetite for the virus 
to be found in the wound made by the bite of 
any venomous animal. This is the owner's story: 
"The stone was brought to Virginia in 1740 
by Joshua Fred, who was a well-to-do farmer in 
Warwickshire, England, and became an impor- 
tant landowner in Fauquier County. By his 
wish his descendants had clung to this stone as 
a priceless heirloom, and I am proud to say that 
their use of it has always reflected credit upon 
the good, old-fashioned hospitality and kindli- 
ness characteristic of Virginians. It was well 
known all over the country that anybody might 
go to the Fred farm with any unfortunate who 
had been bitten by a dog, and enjoy a certain 
cure without any cost. For a hundred years 
none of the Freds would permit any one who 
was cured in this way by the madstone to pay 
a farthing, even for board or lodging or horse 
feed. In later years the vicissitudes of peace 
and war having somewhat affected the fortunes 


98 Myths and Fables 

of various members of the family, it became 
the practice to allow visitors who came to use 
the madstone to pay what they pleased for their 
entertainment and for the care of their teams. 
Beyond this, however, no charge whatever was 
made for scores of most remarkable cures. 

" A journal was kept by the various members 
of the family who had charge of the madstone, 
in which was entered the name and age of 
every person on whom it was used, and the 
character of the wound treated. The entries 
in this book, made in the quaint handwriting of 
member after member of the family, the most 
of whom have long since turned to dust in their 
graves, are most interesting. 

" While the stone was in my possession I had 
occasion several times to use it upon persons 
who were brought to me in great agony of mind 
over wounds they had received from the bite of 
rabid dogs. The last case occurred just a few 
days before the sale of the stone. A young 
boy was brought to my house late at night, 
who had been bitten on the wrist. The wound 

Charms against Disease 99 

was an ugly one, and the father was in great 
distress of mind for fear hydrophobia would set 
in. I placed the stone on the boy's wrist at 
about ten o'clock and went to bed. The father 
stayed up and took care of the boy. At two 
o'clock in the morning, he said, the stone let 
go. The boy was then sound asleep. The 
father placed the stone, as I had told him to 
do, in a glass of milk, on which, when I saw 
it in the morning, there was a thick green 
scum. This seemed to be the usual result in 
all such cases. The stone was never known to 
let go until it had extracted all the poison, and, 
on being placed in a glass of warm water or 
milk, discharged a greenish liquid. The stone 
itself is perhaps an inch long by three-quarters 
wide, and is of a velvety, grayish brown color. 
Years ago it was accidentally broken in two, 
and the jeweller who placed a gold band around 
it to hold it together has told me that the inside 
was a little darker than the outside and was 
arranged in concentric layers." 1 

1 Boston Transcript, February 13, 1899. 

ioo Myths and Fables 

As an antidote against the bite of a dog, you 
must procure some of the hair of the dog that 
has bitten you. This has passed into a proverb 
among habitual topers, with particular reference 
to taking another "nip." 

There is also a more or less current belief, 
better grounded perhaps than many others of 
a like nature, that a dog which has bitten a 
person should not be killed until unmistakable 
symptoms of rabies have appeared. 

Who does not remember the " blue-glass 
craze " of some fifteen years ago, which spread 
like wildfire over the land, and as suddenly died 
out ? Whole communities went blue-glass mad. 
It was enough for some one to have advanced 
the theory that the cerulean rays were a 
cure-all, for everybody to accept it with as 
much confidence as if it had been one of the 
demonstrated facts of science. Dealers in blue- 
glass were about the only ones to benefit by the 
craze which infallibly suggests its own moral, 
namely, that credulity has not wholly disap- 
peared. Is this doubted when hardly a day 

Charms against Disease 101 

goes by in which some miraculous cure is not 
heralded abroad by the newspapers ? Some- 
times it is performed merely by the laying on 
of hands ; and most often without the aid of 
medicines. Indeed, within a few years, there 
has sprung up a new school of healing, number- 
ing its tens of thousands proselytes, which not 
only sets all the best established principles and 
traditions of the old schools at defiance, but also 
literally "throws physic to the dogs." 

The practice of dipping in the healing waters 
of the ocean as a cure-all, or preventive of dis- 
ease for the coming year, formerly prevailed on 
the Maine coast, particularly at Old Orchard 
Beach and in the immediate neighborhood, to a 
very great extent. In its nature and inception 
the practice certainly more nearly approached 
the character of those annual pilgrimages made 
to the famous shrines of the Old World than 
anything which has come to my notice. Not to 
mince words, it proceeded from the same super- 
stitious idea, just how originating no one can 
say. So, every year, on the anniversary of St. 

102 Myths and Fables 

John the Baptist's day, a curious assemblage of 
country-folk, for miles around, moved by a com- 
mon impulse, wended their way to the nearest 
beaches, there to dip in the briny waters, 
believed to be invested with especial healing 
powers on this day only, like the bargains 
advertised to draw custom, and thereby be freed 
from all the ills which flesh is heir to. On that 
sacramental day of days, one saw a long string 
of nondescript wagons, loaded with old and 
young, moving along the sandy roads leading 
down from their inland homes to the salt sea. 
Even the school children thought that they, too, 
must dip, in imitation of their elders. For 
some unknown reason, the day, which not only 
had the sanction of long custom but also is 
hallowed by such venerated traditions, was 
given up for the 26th, which is quite like any 
other day of the year. 

As all superstitious folk are generally the 
last to admit that they are so, so in this instance 
the followers of this singular custom in general 
either maintain a discreet silence on the subject, 

Charms against Disease 103 

or refuse to say more than that they go to the 
beach to bathe, on a fixed day, and at no other 
time, because other folks do so. The custom 
undoubtedly arose from a firm belief in the 
miraculous power of the waters to heal the sick, 
make the weak strong and the lame to walk — 
on that day only. That it is a most healthful 
one few will deny, and as cleanliness is said to 
be next to godliness, an annual dip at Old 
Orchard is, at least, one step toward the more 
spiritual condition. 

But it would be a mistake to suppose this 
singular custom to be an article of religious 
faith. It simply illustrates the mental and 
moral stamina of the period in which it flour- 
ished. For if founded in faith alone, there is 
strong probability that it might have survived 
the ridicule to which it has mostly, if not quite, 

Whether it be merely a coincidence or nbt, it 
is fact that June 26th is also the anniversary of 
the festival of St. Anne, to whose shrine annual 
pilgrimages are made by the faithful in the 

104 Myths and Fables 

northern parts of the United States and in Can- 
ada for purposes quite similar to those which 
once attracted a host of bathers to the Maine 
beaches, with the difference that the Canadian 
shrine can show many visible tokens of its mar- 
vellous curative powers, to be seen of all men. 
A visitor to the little church of St. Anne, de 
Beaupre, remarks that " by far the most con- 
spicuous feature of the place was a towering 
trophy of crutches and canes raised within the 
altar rail. These were of all sizes and shapes. 
Two fresh additions rested against the rail, where 
they had been left by their recovered owners." 
Apparently authentic accounts of miracles, 
performed at this venerated shrine, appear from 
time to time in the Canadian newspapers. One 
of these relates, as a matter of news, that " a 
young girl named Marie Levesque, who had 
only walked with difficulty during the last two 
years, with the aid of crutches, was radically 
cured. The second case was that of a young 
Irish lad, who, on returning from the church to 
the boat which was to take him to Quebec, 

Charms against Disease 105 

suddenly threw away his crutch, exclaiming to 
one of his companions as he did so, ' Oh ! I for- 
got to leave my crutch in the church.' ' But 
you will want it again,' was the reply. ' No, 
not at all : I have no longer any use for it.' 
And with that, he began walking about the 
deck, to all appearance as well as ever." 

In addition to these cases, which come to us 
through reputable sources, the Quebec Gazette 
records the following : " A man named Renaud, 
who accompanied the party from St. James' 
parish on Saturday, and who for three years 
has had one side of his body completely 
paralyzed, was able on Sunday to walk out 
of church leaning on the arm of his brother. 
A farmer named Moulin, from Laprairie, 
who has been deaf for five years, fell on 
the floor apparently senseless, just as the offici- 
ating priest was pronouncing the benediction. 
He declared that when the priest raised his 
hands he could feel a touch upon his ear, and at 
the same moment, hearing the low tones of the 
Holy Father, fainted away from excess of joy. 

106 Myths and Fables 

He is said to have been in perfect possession 
of his sense of hearing on his return home. 
Another man, who had lost his sight through 
an attack of typhoid fever a year and a half 
ago, states that immediately after crossing him- 
self with the holy water he was well able to see 
all that was going on. His name is Bruneau, 
and he is a Lavaltrie farmer." 

The following cure for the croup was com- 
municated to me by a very respectable farmer 
now deceased. After talking of various reme- 
dies for this dreaded scourge to young chil- 
dren, my informant observed that he knew 
a sure cure for it. Said he : " Take a live 
chicken, cut it open and take out the gizzard. 
Throw that into a basin of cold water and 
let it stay there. I know, for I've seen it 
tried ; but the chicken must be alive after the 

Of a like nature was the advice given to a 
poor country woman who was dying of con- 
sumption, by one of those female charlatans 
who have so legitimately replaced the fear- 

Charms against Disease 107 

some witch doctors of the past. The patient 
was told that if she would swallow a live frog 
daily it would cure her. Poor creature ! she had 
half the boys in the village catching frogs for 
her, and kept them in a tub in the cellar, 
where they could be handy. The treatment 
proved too heroic. She died. 

It is a fact that touching for the King's 
Evil has been practised in New England as 
late as 18 15, perhaps even later. By far the 
most remarkable instance of the possession 
of this power that has been recorded upon 
what seems like incontrovertible evidence, is 
that of Lieutenant William Robbe of Peter- 
borough, New Hampshire. 1 One feature of 
his treatment, which no doubt served to draw 
many clients to him, was the practice of giv- 
ing to each afflicted person a piece of silver. 
In fact, so many applied that the lieutenant 
was seriously interrupted in his legitimate 

A Doctor Young, who in the account re- 

1 In " Farmer and Moore's Collections," i., 136. 

108 Myths and Fables 

ferred to is described as having been an emi- 
nent practitioner for more than forty years 
in the town, is said to have declared that in- 
fants afflicted with scrofulous diseases, tumors 
and the like, too obstinate to yield to medical 
aid, did unquestionably receive almost im- 
mediate relief from the healing hand of Lieu- 
tenant Robbe. 

The wonderful healer continued to practise 
his semi-miraculous treatment until he was no 
longer able to raise his hands, but even then, 
so eager were the applicants, many of whom 
came from a distance, not to be disappointed, 
that the feeble hands were lifted for him to 
the sufferer's head. 

In " Supernaturalism in New England," Mr. 
Whittier speaks of one Austin, a New Hamp- 
shire Quaker, who practised mental healing in 
his day. Those who were unable to visit him 
were treated by letter. In truth, there is no 
new thing under the sun. 



\T 7HAT are the supposed attributes of cer- 
^ * tain precious stones but another form 
of superstition ? According to the popular 
lore on this subject, each gem has its peculiar 
virtue or virtues, with which the credulous 
owner becomes forthwith invested. Authori- 
ties differ so much, however, in regard to this 
mystical language that there cannot be said 
to be any settled standard of meaning. If, 
therefore, we refer only to such precious 
stones as have some superstition attached to 
them, we shall do all that comes within the 
range of our present purpose. 

In "A Lover's Complaint," Shakespeare sets 


1 10 Myths and Fables 

forth, as understood in his day, " Each stone's 
dear nature, worth, and quality." 

We accept, therefore, without reserve, as a 
starting point his dictum that — 

" paled pearls, and rubies set in blood " 

indicated two extremes of passion, namely, shrink- 
ing modesty and bold desire. He then goes on 
to describe the other symbolical gems thus : — 

" The diamond, why, 'twas beautiful and hard, 
Whereto his invised properties did tend ; 
The deep green emerald in whose fresh regard 
Weak sights their sickly radiance do amend ; 
The heaven-hued sapphire and the opal blend 
With objects manifold. 1 ' 

Those interested in the sale of gems have 
observed that most precious stones have their 
brief day of popular favor, regardless of any 
superstition connected with them. In other 
words, the popularity of certain jewels chiefly 
depends upon the public taste, for the time 
being. And the demand, therefore, fluctuates 
according as the particular stone is fashionable 
or unfashionable. 

Of Fate in Jewels in 

It would require a volume to give the sub- 
ject fair treatment, so long is the list, and so 
abundant the material. Hardly a week goes 
by, however, in which some reference to the 
good or evil influence of this or that gem is 
not set forth in the public press, supported, 
too, by such an array of circumstantial evi- 
dence as to give color and authenticity to the 
story. The opal and the moonstone are the 
gems most often figuring in these tales. By 
turns the opal has borne a good and bad 
reputation ; by turns it has been as fashion- 
able as its rare beauty would seem of right 
to bespeak for it ; and then again, owing to 
popular caprice or the sudden revival of some 
antiquated superstition, it has laid neglected 
in the jewellers' drawer for years. 

The notion that the opal brings misfortune 
to the wearer is comparatively modern. For- 
merly, it was believed to possess great virtues 
as a talisman. In Ben Jonson's " New Inn," 
Ferret says ; — 

1 1 2 Myths and Fables 

" No fern seed in my pocket ; nor an opal 
Wrapt in bay-leaf, in my left fist, to charm 
Thine eyes withal." 

In Jonson's and Shakespeare's time, the 
opal was justly prized for its quick changes 
of color, exhibiting, as it does, almost all of 
the hues of the rainbow in rapid succession. 
It is quaintly described in an account of that 
day as " a precious stone of divers colors, 
wherein appeareth the fiery shining of the 
carbuncle, the purple color of the amethyst, 
and the green shew of the emerald, very 
strangely mixed." 

Quite naturally, dealers in gems have no 
patience with those superstitions unfavorable to 
the sale of their wares, although they show no 
particular dislike toward those of a different 
nature, if their sales are thereby increased. So 
when a customer asks for something synony- 
mous with good luck, the obliging dealer usu- 
ally offers him a moonstone, and after a little 
chaffering the buyer departs, possessed of a 
duly authenticated amulet, or charm. Agate is 

Of Fate in Jewels 113 

another stone having, by common fame, the 
property of insuring long life, health, and pros- 
perity to the wearer. The present Emperor of 
Germany is said, on good authority, to affect 
this stone. Now the ancient magician, who 
sold charms and love-philters to love-lorn 
swains, did no more than this, with the differ- 
ence that he pretended to endow his nostrums 
with their supernatural powers by his own arts. 

Indeed, the very word ''charms" so inno- 
cently given to a bunch of jingling objects 
dangling from the belt or watch-chain, is itself 
indicative of a superstitious origin, to say the 

As an example of the change wrought by the 
tyrant fashion in the supposed attributes of 
certain gems, the ruby was formerly considered 
the correct thing for an engagement ring, but 
that stone is now almost wholly superseded by 
the diamond for that highly interesting event ; 
though the ruby continues to be regarded as a 
valuable gift upon other occasions, and if of a 
fine quality, is much more costly than a dia- 

ii4 Myths and Fables 

mond. Very possibly the familiar Biblical 
phrase, " for her price is far above rubies," 
spoken of the truly virtuous woman in Prov- 
erbs, may have suggested the peculiar fitness 
of this gem in a promise of marriage. If so, 
we can only regret the substitution. 

Perhaps the most plausible explanation given 
for the present popularity of the diamond — it 
must, however, be a solitaire of the purest 
water — is that, as the diamond is the most 
durable substance known, so it is hoped that 
it may symbolize an enduring affection between 
the contracting parties. Though in itself noth- 
ing but a symbol or sign, the gift of an engage- 
ment ring is considered as evidence in a breach 
of promise case, thus showing that the very 
ancient custom in use among princes or noble 
personages of sending their signet-rings with 
messages of high importance, to give credit to 
the messenger, lives on in the spirit, if not in 
the actual letter, of the law, as applied to the 
sacred pledge of fidelity to one's promise to 

Of Fate in Jewels 115 

A very conscientious dealer once told me 
that if a young gentleman were to ask his 
advice concerning an engagement ring, he 
should dissuade the amorous youth from buy- 
ing an emerald, on the ground that the young 
lady might regard it as a bad omen, possibly 
on account of its color which, as we have 
pointed out, is or was considered unlucky ; but 
more probably, we think, because the emerald 
is said to be the chosen symbol of the "green- 
eyed monster," jealousy. An old jeweller 
readily confirms the opinion that many young 
ladies would be unwilling to accept an emerald 
at such a time ; while still another adds that 
he never knew of one being given as an en- 
gagement gift. The novelist Black makes use 
of this superstition in his " Three Feathers," 
as something universally admitted, "for how," 
he naively asks, " could any two people marry 
who had engaged themselves with an emerald 

Doctors disagree, however, as to the actual 
properties of this beautiful gem, as well as in 

n6 Mvths and Fables 

other things, for we find one authority saying 
that the emerald " discovers false witnesses, 
and ensures happiness in love and domestic 

In justice, therefore, to this much abused 
stone, we must declare that our research thus 
far fails to confirm the odium sought to be 
cast upon it, in any particular; on the con- 
trary, so far as we can find, not one jot or 
tittle of superstition attached to the emerald 
so long ago as when New England was set- 
tled. A learned writer of that time describes 
it as " a precious stone, the greenest of all 
other; for which it is very comfortable to the 
sight," and he adds, on the authority of Alber- 
tus Magnus, that " some affirm them (emeralds) 
to be taken out of Griffon's nests, who do 
keep this stone with great sedulity. It is 
found by experience that if the emerald be 
good, it inclineth the wearer to chastity." 

It is therefore highly improbable, to say the 
least, that this article of superstitious faith 
came over in the Mayflower. 

Of Fate in Jewels 117 

The turquoise has long proved a puzzle to 
the most experienced dealers in gems, on 
account of its singular property of changing 
color without apparent cause. Ordinarily it 
is of a beautiful blue — about the color of a 
robin's egg. This color sometimes changes to 
green, and again, though unfrequently, to 
white. In relating his experience with this 
stone to me, an old friend described his sur- 
prise as well as alarm at having a very valu- 
ble specimen, which was "beautifully blue" 
when put in the workman's hands to be set 
with diamonds, returned to him covered with 
a white film, nearly concealing the original 
blue color. As the turquoise itself was worth 
several hundred dollars, it really was a rather 
serious matter. The erratic stone, however, 
was put away in the safe. When the pur- 
chaser called for it on the following day, on 
its being taken out of the box, it was found 
that the true color had partly returned, one 
half of the stone being blue, and the other 
half white. "And we even fancied" con- 

n8 Myths and Fables 

tinued my informant, " that we could see the 

color change as we watched it." 

This change of color in the turquoise gave 

rise to the belief that its hue varied with the 

health of the wearer, it being blue when the 

wearer was in good health and green or 

white in the case of ill-health, or as put into 

verse : — 

"A compassionate turquoise that doth tell 
By looking pale the wearer is not well. 1 ' 

As coral is again becoming quite fashion- 
able, we recall that it was once considered a 
sure protection against the Evil Eye, and is 
so still in Italy, where the little coral charm 
shaped like the hand, with the thumb and 
middle finger closed (a charm against witch- 
craft), comes from. It is also a more or less 
general belief that coral or red beads^ worn 
round the neck, prevent nose-bleeding, on the 
principle, we suppose, that like cures like. 

The carnelian, shaped in the form of a heart, 
was formerly much worn as an amulet. 

The amethyst, as its Greek name implies, is 

Of Fate in Jewels 119 

considered an antidote to intoxication. It has 
now a formidable rival in the gold-cure. There 
is an anecdote of the first Napoleon which 
affirms that he took a valuable amethyst from 
the crown in the coffin of Charlemagne. The 
stolen stone later came into the possession of 
Napoleon III., who wore it as a seal on his 
watch-guard. In his will he bequeathed the 
stone to his son as a talisman. On making her 
escape from Paris, in 1870, the empress took 
the historical stone with her. 

The carbuncle was formerly believed to guard 
the wearer against the danger of breathing 
infectious air. It was also said to have the 
property of shining in the dark, like a burn- 
ing coal, thus investing it, in the minds of the 
credulous, with supernatural power. This, be 
it said, was an Old-World superstition, which is 
referred to in some verses written by John 
Chalkhill (1649), describing a witch's cave: — 

"Through which the carbuncle and diamond shine 
Not set by art, but there by Nature sown 
At the world's birth so star-like bright they shone. 1 ' 

120 Myths and Fables 

But strangely enough, our forefathers found a 
similar belief existing among the Indians of 
New England, and what is more, these ignorant 
savages were able to convince the more civil- 
ized Englishmen of the truth of it. 

According to these Indians, on the loftiest 
mountain peak, suspended from a crag over- 
hanging a dismal lake, there was an enormous 
carbuncle, which many declared they had seen 
blazing in the night like a live coal ; while by 
day it emitted blinding rays of light, dazzling 
to look upon. No mortal could hope to lay 
hands upon this gem, which was under the 
special guardianship of the genius of the 

So ran the legend. It is believed to have 
inspired the earliest recorded journeys to the 
great White Mountains of New Hampshire, by 
adventurous whites. A reference to Sullivan's 
" History of Maine " shows that the story 
found full credence among certain of the igno- 
rant settlers even in his day ; and Hawthorne's 
grewsome tale of "The Great Carbuncle" is 

Of Fate in Jewels 121 

founded upon this weird legend, so vividly re- 
calling those of the Harz and the Caucasus. 

It is noticeable that, in the matter of super- 
stitions concerning gems, it is not the common 
people, but the wealthy who alone are able to 
gratify their desires. Everybody has heard of 
the Rothschild pearls. The Princess Louise 
of Lome wears a ring of jet, as a preserver of 
health. M. Zola carries a bit of coral as a talis- 
man against all sorts of perils by land or water ; 
all of which goes to show that neither wealth 
nor station is exempt from those secret in- 
fluences which so readily affect the poor and 



" Now for good lucke, cast an old shoe after me." — Heywood. 

r I ^HE folk-lore of marriage is probably the 
■*■ most interesting feature of the general 
subject, to the tender sex, at least, with whom 
indeed none other, in the nature of things, 
could begin to hold so important a place. In 
consequence, all favorable or unfavorable omens 
are carefully treasured up in the memory, quite 
as much pains being taken to guard against 
evil prognostics as to propitiate good fortune. 
Quite naturally, the young unmarried woman 
is possessed of a burning desire to find out who 
her future husband is to be, what he is like, 
whether he is rich or poor, short or tall, and if 
they twain are to be happy in the married state 
or not. To this end the oracle is duly 


Of Love and Marriage 123 

consulted, either openly or secretly, after the 
best approved methods. 

One of the best known modes of divination 
is this : If, fortunately, you find the pretty little 
lady-bird bug on your clothes, throw it up in 
the air, repeating at the same time the invoca- 
tion : — ■ 

" Fly away east and fly away west, 
Show me where lives the one I love best." 

All charms of this nature are supposed to 
possess peculiar power if tried on St. Valen- 
tine's day, Christmas Eve, or Hallowe'en. 
Curious it is that on a day dedicated to All 
the Saints in the Calendar, evil spirits, fairies, 
and the like are supposed to be holding a sort 
of magic revel unchecked, or that they should 
be thought to be better disposed to gratify the 
desires of inquisitive mortals on this day than 
on another. At any rate, calendar or no cal- 
endar, St. Matrimony is the patron saint of 

Among the many methods of divination 
employed, a favorite one was to drop melted 

124 Myths and Fables 

lead into a bowl of water, though any other sort 
of vessel would do as well, and whatever form 
the lead might take would signify the occupa- 
tion of your future husband. Or to go out of 
doors in the dark, with a ball of yarn, and 
unwind it until some one should begin winding 
it at the unwound end. At this trial, the 
expected often happened, as the enamored 
swain would seldom fail to be on the watch for 
his sweetheart to appear. So also the white of 
an egg dropped in water, and set in the sun, 
was supposed to take on the form of some 
object, such as a ship under full sail, indicat- 
ing that your husband would be a sailor. 

Burning the nuts is perhaps the most popular 
mode of trying conclusions with fate, as it cer- 
tainly is the most mirth-provoking. On this 
interesting occasion, lads and lassies arrange 
themselves in a circle before a blazing wood 
fire, on the hearth. Nuts are produced. 
Each person, after naming his or her nut, puts 
it upon the glowing coals, with the unspoken 
invocation : — 

Of Love and Marriage 125 

" If he loves me, pop and fly, 
If he hates me, live and die. 1 ' 

The poet Gay turns this somewhat differ- 
ently, but it is not our affair to reconcile con- 
flicting presages. He sings : — 

" Two hazel nuts I threw into the flame, 
And to each nut I gave a sweetheart's name, 
This with the loudest bounce me sore amazed, 
That in a flame of brightest color blazed : 
As blazed the nut so may the passions grow, 
For 'twas thy nut that did so brightly glow.'" 

A still different rendering is given by Burns. 
According to him each questioner of the charm 
names two nuts, one for himself, one for his 
sweetheart, presumably -the mode practised in 
Scotland in his time : — 

"Jean slips in twa wi 1 tentie e'e; 
Wha 'twas, she wadna tell ; 
But this is Jock, an' this is me, 

She says in to hersel 1 : 
He blaz'd o'er her, an' she owre him, 

As they wad never mair part ; 
'Till, fuff ! he started up the lum, 
An' Jean had e'en a sair heart 

To see't that night." 

126 Myths and Fables 

Popping corn sometimes takes the place of 
burning the nuts. The spoken invocation is 
then " Pit, put, turn inside out ! " 

There are also several methods of performing 
this act of divination with apples. The one 
most practised in New England is this : First 
pare an apple. If you succeed in removing the 
peel air in one piece, throw it over your head, 
and should the charm work well, the peel will 
so fall as to form the first letter of your future 
husband's name, or as Gay poetically puts it: — 

" I pare this pippin round and round again, 
My shepherd's name to nourish on the plain : 
I fling th 1 unbroken paring o'er my head, 
Upon the grass a perfect L is read." 

When sleeping in a strange bed for the first 
time, name the four posts for some of your male 
friends. The post that you first look at, upon 
waking in the morning, bears the name of the 
one whom you will marry. Care is usually 
taken to fall asleep on the right side of the bed. 

By walking down the cellar stairs backward, 
holding a mirror over your head as you go, the 

Of Love and Marriage 127 

face of the person whom you will marry will 
presently appear in the mirror. 

The oracle of the daisy flower, so effectively 
made use of in Goethe's " Faust," is of great 
antiquity, and is perhaps more often consulted 
by blushing maidens than any other. When 
plucking away the snowy petals, the fair ques- 
tioner of fate should murmur low to herself the 
cabalistic formula : — 

" ' He loves me, loves me not, 1 she said, 
Bending low her dainty head 

O'er the daisy's mystic spell. 
' He loves me, loves me not, he loves,' 
She murmurs 'mid the golden groves 

Of the corn-fields on the fell." 

As the last leaf falls, so goes the prophecy. 

If you put a four-leaved clover in your shoe 
before going out for a walk, you will presently 
meet the one you are to marry. The same 
charm is used to bring back an absent or way- 
ward lover. Consequently there is much look- 
ing for this bashful little plant at all of our 
matrimonial resorts. The rhymed version runs 
in this wise : — 

128 Myths and Fables 

" A clover, a clover of two, 
Put it in your right shoe ; 
The first young man you meet, 
In field, street, or lane, 
You'll get him, or- one of his name. 11 

In some localities a bean-pod or a pea-pod 

put over the door acts as a charm to bring the 

favored of fortune to lift the latch and walk in. 

This is old. The poet Gay has it in rhyme 

thus : — 

'" As peascods once I pluck'd. I chanc'd to see 
One that was closely filled with three times three ; 
Which when I cropp'd, I safely home convey'd, 
And o 1 er the door the spell in secret laid : — 
The latch moved up, when who should first come in, 
But in his proper person — Lubberkin! " 

Another mode of divination runs in this way : 
On going to bed the girl eats two spoonfuls of 
salt. The salt causes her to dream that she is 
dying of thirst ; and whoever the young man 
may be that brings her a cup of water, in her 
dream, is the one she will marry. 1 

1 Another way, laid down by some authorities, was that any 
unmarried woman fasting on Midsummer Eve, and at midnight 
laying a clean cloth with bread, cheese, and ale, and sitting 

Of Love and Marriage 129 

If after seeing a white horse you count a 
hundred, the first gentleman you meet will be 
your future husband. 

So far as appearances go, at least, the cus- 
tom of brewing love-philters or love-potions, to 
forestall or force the natural inclinations, has 
completely died out. From this source the 
astrologers, magicians, and fortune-tellers of 
former times reaped a rich harvest. Many 
instances of the use of this old custom occur 
in literature. Josselyn naively relates the only 
one we can call to mind, coming near home to 
us. He says : " I once took notice of a wanton 
woman's compounding the solid roots of this 
plant (Satyrion) with wine, for an amorous cup, 
which wrought the desired effect." 

Would that the hideous and barbarous cus- 
tom of administering poisons to gratify the 
cravings of hatred or the pangs of jealousy 

down as if going to eat — the street door being left open — the 
person whom she is afterwards to marry will come into the 
room and drink to her by bowing, afterwards fill the glass, 
make another bow, and retire. — Fielding. 


130 Myths and Fables 

had become equally obsolete ! But alas ! the 
"green-eyed monster" is "with us yet." 

It is a fact, well known to students of folk- 
lore, that those customs or usages relating to 
marriage are not only among the oldest, but 
have become too firmly intrenched in the pop- 
ular mind to be easily dislodged. Thus, the 
ceremony of Throwing the Shoe continues to 
hold an honored place among marriage cus- 
toms. In another place, it has been referred 
to as sometimes employed in the common con- 
cerns of life. But in the case of marriage, a 
somewhat deeper significance is attached to it. 
It is but fair to say, however, that authorities 
differ widely as to its origin, some referring it 
to the testimony of the Scriptures (Deut. xxv.), 
where the loosing of a shoe from a man's foot 
by the woman he has refused to marry, is made 
an act of solemn renunciation in the presence 
of the elders. Thereafter, the obdurate one 
was to be held up to the public scorn, and his 
house pointed at as " the house of him that 
hath his shoe loosed." So again we read in 

Of Love and Marriage 131 

Ruth of a man who plucked off his shoe, and 
gave it to his kinsman, as an evidence to the 
act of renunciation, touching the redeeming of 
land, and this, we are there told, was then the 
manner in Israel. Hence, it has been very 
plausibly suggested, especially by Mr. Thrupp, 
in " Notes and Queries," that throwing an old 
shoe after a bride was at first a symbol of 
renunciation of authority over her, by her 
father or guardian. However that may be, it 
is certain that no marriage ceremony is con- 
sidered complete to-day without it, although 
there is danger of its being brought into ridi- 
cule, and so into disrepute, by such nonsensical 
acts as tying on old shoes to the bride's trunks, 
or to some part of her carriage, as I have seen 
done here in New England, the original design 
of the custom being lost sight of in the too evi- 
dent purpose to make the wedded pair as con- 
spicuous as possible, and their start on life's 
journey an occasion for the outbreak of ill- 
timed buffoonery. 

In "Primitive Marriage" Mr. McLennan 

132 Myths and Fables 

thinks that throwing the shoe may be a relic 
of the ancient custom, still kept up among cer- 
tain Hindu tribes, where the bride, either in 
fact or in appearance only, is forcibly carried 
off by the groom and his friends, who are, in 
turn, themselves hotly pursued and in good 
earnest pelted with all manner of missiles, 
stones included, by the bride's kinsfolk and 
tribesmen. This sham assault usually ends in 
the pursuers giving up the chase, — as, indeed, 
was intended beforehand, — and is probably a 
survival of the earliest of marriage customs, 
namely, that of stealing the bride, as recorded 
in ancient history. But this explanation is 
chiefly interesting as fixing the status of 
woman in those primitive days, when she was 
more like the slave of man than his equal. 
That relation is now so far reversed, however, 
that it is now the man who has become the 
humble suitor and declared servitor of woman- 
kind. So, at least, he insists. Now and then, 
though quite rarely, the old barbaric custom 
is recalled by the forcible abduction of some 

Of Love and Marriage 133 

unwilling victim by her rejected lover; but 
only in a few instances, so far as we know, 
has a bride been kidnapped and held to ran- 
som, in this country, before being restored to 
her friends. The American Indians are known 
to have practised this custom of stealing the 
bride, quite after the manner described by 
Mr. McLennan as in vogue among the 

Even royalty itself, must bow to the behests 
of old custom, as well as common mortals. 
When the Duke and Duchess of Albany left 
Windsor, while they were still within the pri- 
vate grounds, the bridegroom's three brothers 
and Princess Louise and Princess Beatrice ran 
across a part of the lawn enclosed within a 
bend of the drive, each armed with a number 
of old shoes, with which they pelted the 
" happy pair." The Duke of Albany returned 
the fire from the carriage with the ammunition 
supplied him by his friendly assailants, caus- 
ing the heartiest laughter by a well-directed 
shot at the Duke of Edinburgh. 

134 Myths and Fables 

It was always reckoned a good omen if the 
sun shone on a couple when coming out of 
church. Hence the saying : " Happy is the 
bride that the sun shines on." 

Every one knows, if not from experience, at 
least by observation, what self-consciousness 
dwells in a newly married pair — what pains 
they take to appear like old married folk, and 
what awkward attempts they make to assume 
the degage air of ordinary travellers. As 
touching this feature of the subject, I one 
day saw a carriage driven past me, at which 
every one stopped to look, and stare in a way 
to attract general attention, and after looking, 
gave a broad grin. The reason was apparent. 
On the back of the carriage was hung a large 
placard, labelled " Just Married." Several old 
shoes, besides some long streamers of cheap 
cotton cloth, were dangling from the trunks, 
behind. When the carriage, thus decorated, 
drew up at the station, followed by a hooting 
crowd of street urchins, it was greeted with 
roars of laughter by the throng of idlers in 

Of Love and Marriage 135 

waiting, while the unconscious cause of it all 
first learned on alighting what a sensation 
they had so unwittingly created. 

The custom of throwing rice over a bride, 
as an emblem of fruitfulness, also is very old, 
though in England it was originally wheat 
that was cast upon her head. The poet 
Herrick says to the bride, 

"While some repeat 
Your praise and bless you sprinkling you with wheat." 

All the sentiment of this pretty and very 
significant custom is in danger of being killed 
by excess on the part of the performers, who 
so often overdo the matter as to render them- 
selves supremely ridiculous, and the bride very 
uncomfortable, to say the least. To scatter 
rice, as if one were sowing it by the acre, 
when a handful would amply fulfil all the 
requirements of the custom, is something as 
if an officiating clergyman should pour a pail- 
ful of water on an infant's head, instead of 
sprinkling it, at a baptism. 

136 Myths and Fables 

It is not surprising that now and then cases 
arise where a newly married couple try to 
escape from the shower prepared for them 
by giving these over-zealous assistants the slip. 
A chase then begins corresponding somewhat 
to that just related of ignorant barbarians; 
and woe to the runaways if the pursuers 
should catch up with them ! 

The custom of furnishing bride-cake at a 
wedding is said to be a token of the firm 
union between man and wife, just as from 
immemorial time breaking bread has been held 
to have a symbolic meaning. The custom is 
centuries old. At first it was only a cake 
of wheat or barley. What it is composed of 
now, no man can undertake to say. That it 
is conducive to dreaming, or more probably 
to nightmare, few, we think, will care to dis- 

We learn that it was a former custom to 
cut the bride-cake into little squares or dice, 
small enough to be passed through the wed- 
ding-ring. A slice drawn through the ring 

Of Love and Marriage 137 

thrice (some have it nine times), and after- 
ward put under the pillow, will make an 
unmarried man or woman dream of his or 
her future wife or husband. This is another 
of those old customs of which trial is so 
often made "just for the fun of the thing, 
you know ! " 

The Charivari, or mock serenade, is another 
custom still much affected in many places, 
notably so in our rural districts, though to our 
own mind " more honored in the breach than 
in the observance." The averred object is to 
make "night hideous," and is usually com- 
pletely successful. In the wee sma' hours, 
while sleeping peacefully in their beds, the 
newly wedded pair are suddenly awakened by 
a most infernal din under their windows, caused 
by the blowing of tin horns, the thumping of 
tin pans, ringing of cowbells, and like instru- 
ments of torture. To get rid of his tormentors 
the bridegroom is expected to hold an im- 
promptu reception, or, in other words, " to treat 
the crowd," which is more often the real object 

138 Myths and Fables 

of this silly affair, to which we fail to discover 
one redeeming feature. 

The custom of wearing the wedding ring 
upon the left hand originated, so we are told, 
in the common belief that the left hand lay 
nearest to the heart. 

As is well known, the Puritans tried to 
abolish the use of the ring in marriage. Ac- 
cording to Butler in "Hudibras": — 

" Others were for abolishing 
That tool of matrimony — a ring 
With which the unsatisfied bridegroom 
Is married only to a thumb." 

The times have indeed changed since in 
the early days of New England no Puritan 
maiden would have been married with a ring 
for worlds. When Edward Winslow was cited 
before the Lord's Commissioners of Plantations, 
upon the complaint of Thomas Morton, he was 
asked among other things about the marriage 
customs practised in the colony. He answered 
frankly that the ceremony was performed by 
magistrates. Morton, his accuser, declares that 

Of Love and Marriage 139 

the people of New England held the use of a 
ring in marriage to be " a relic of popery, a 
diabolical circle for the Devell to daunce in." 
The first marriage in Plymouth Colony, that 
of the same Edward Winslow to Susannah 
White, was performed by a magistrate, as being 
a civil rather than a religious contract. From 
this time to 1680, marriages were solemnized 
by a magistrate, or by persons specially ap- 
pointed for that purpose, who were restricted to 
particular towns or districts. Governor Hutch- 
inson, in his history of Massachusetts, says he 
believes " there was no instance of marriage by 
a clergyman during their first charter." If a 
minister happened to be present, he was desired 
to pray. It is difficult to assign the reason why 
clergymen were excluded from performing this 
ceremony. In new settlements, it must have 
been solemnized by persons not always the 
most proper for that purpose, considering of 
what importance it is to society, that a sense 
of this ordinance, at least in some degree 
sacred, should be maintained and preserved. 

140 Myths and Fables 

The first marriage solemnized at Guilford, 
Connecticut, took place in the minister's house. 
It is not learned whether he performed the 
ceremony or not. The marriage feast consisted 
wholly of pork and beans. As time wore on, 
marriages became occasions of much more cere- 
mony than they were fifty or sixty years ago. 
During the Revolutionary period, and even later, 
the bride was visited daily for four successive 

A gold wedding-ring is accounted a sure cure 
for sties. 

If the youngest daughter of the family 
should be married before her older sisters, 
they must all dance at her wedding in their 
stockings-feet, if they wish to have husbands. 

It is strongly enjoined upon a bride, when 

being dressed for the marriage ceremony, to 

wear, — 

" Something old and something new, 
Something borrowed and something blue, 
And a four-leaved clover in her shoe." 

June is now at the height of popularity as 

Of Love and Marriage 141 

the month of all months to get married in, 
for no other reason that I can discover, than 
that it is the month of roses, when beauty 
and plenty pervade the fair face of nature. 

It is now the custom for the bride, if she 
is married at home, or on returning there 
from church, to throw away her bouquet for 
the guests to scramble for. The one getting 
the most flowers will be married first, and 
so on. 

Giving wedding presents was not practised 
before the present (nineteenth) century. 

One old marriage custom, though long since 
obsolete, may be briefly alluded to here, not 
only for its singularity, but for its suggestive- 
ness touching a state of mind that would 
admit of such tomfoolery. This was the so- 
called Smock-marriage, in which the bride 
went through the ceremony standing only in 
her shift, thereby declaring herself to be pos- 
sessed of no more than she came into the 
world with. On being duly recorded, the act 
exempted the husband from liability for his 

142 Myths and Fables 

wife's debts previously contracted. If she 
went through this ridiculous performance in 
the presence of witnesses, and in the " King's 
Highway," that is to say, the lawfully laid 
out public road, she thereby cleared herself 
from any old indebtedness. As amazing as 
it may seem, several such cases are recorded 
in New England, the formalities observed dif- 
fering somewhat in different localities. 

It is considered unlucky to get married 
before breakfast. 

" If you marry in Lent, 
You will live to repent. 11 

May is considered an unlucky month to be 

married in. 

" Marry in May, 

And you'll rue the day. 11 

To remove an engagement or wedding ring 
from the finger is also a bad omen. 1 To lose 
either of them, or to have them broken on 
the finger, also denotes misfortune. 

It is extremely unlucky for either the bride 

1 A reference to this is found in Cooper's " Spy." 

Of Love and Marriage 143 

or groom to meet a funeral when on their 
way to be married. 

It is an unlucky omen for the church 
clock to strike during the performance of a 
marriage ceremony, as it is said to portend the 
death of one of the contracting parties before 
the year is out. 



" A woman's story at a winter's fire." — Macbeth. 

\~\ J"E come now to those things considered 
* * as distinctly unlucky, and to be avoided 
accordingly. How common is the peevish ex- 
clamation of "That's just my luck!" Spill- 
ing the salt, picking up a pin with the point 
toward you, crossing a knife and fork, or giv- 
ing any one a knife or other sharp instru- 
ment, are all deemed of sinister import now, 
as of old. 

One must not kill a toad, which, though 

" ugly and venomous, 
Wears yet a precious jewel in its head, 11 

Of Evil Omens 145 

or a grasshopper, possibly by reason of the 
veneration in which this voracious little insect 
was held by the Athenians, whose favorite 
symbol it was, although it is now outlawed, 
and a price set upon its head as a pest, to 
be ruthlessly exterminated, by some of the 
Western states. So, too, with the warning 
not to kill a spider, against which, never- 
theless, the housemaid's broom wages relent- 
less war. If, on the contrary, you do not kill 
the first snake seen in the spring, bad luck 
will follow you all the year round. Be it 
ever so badly bruised, however, the belief 
holds fast in the country that the reptile will 
not die until sunset, or with the expiring day, 

" That like a wounded snake drags its slow length along."" 

The peacock's feathers were supposed to be 
unlucky, from an old tradition associating its 
gaudy colors with certain capital sins, which 
these colors were held to symbolize. Neverthe- 
less, this tall and haughty feather has been 
much the fashion of late years as an effective 

146 Myths and Fables 

mantel ornament, showing how reckless some 
people can be regarding the prophecy of evil. 

Getting married before breakfast is con- 
sidered unlucky. It would be quite as logical 
to say this of any other time of the day ; hence 
unlucky to get married at all, though it is not 
believed all married people will cordially sub- 
scribe to this heresy. 

May is an unlucky month to be married in. 

So, also 

" If you marry in Lent 

You will live to repent." 

Old Burton says, " Marriage and hanging go 
by destiny; matches are made in heaven." 

Getting out of bed on the wrong side bodes 
ill luck for the rest of the day. A common 
remark to a person showing ill-humor is, " I 
guess you got out of the wrong side of the bed 
this morning." It has in fact become a 

To begin dressing yourself by putting the 
stocking on the left foot first would be trifling 
with fortune. I know a man who would not do 

Of Evil Omens 147 

so on any account. It is also unlucky to put 
a right foot into a left-hand shoe, or vice versa. 
These are necessary corollaries of the " right- 
foot-foremost " superstition. 

According to that merry gentleman, Samuel 

Butler : — 

" Augustus having ^oversight 

Put on his left shoe for his right, 
Had like to have been slain that day, 
By soldiers mutining for their pay." 

Cutting the finger nails on the Sabbath is a 
bad omen. There is a set of rhymed rules for 
the doing of even this trifling act. Apparently, 
the Chinese know the omen, as they do not 
cut the nails at all. 

Of the harmless dragon-fly or devil's darning- 
needle, country girls say that if one flies in your 
face it will sew up your eyes. 

In some localities I have heard it said that if 

two persons walking together should be parted 

by a post, a tree, or a person, in their path, 

something unlucky will surely result — 

" Unless they straightway mutter, 
' Bread and butter, bread and butter.' " 

148 Myths and Fables 

Low, the pirate, would not let his crew work 
on the Sabbath, not so much, we suppose, from 
conscientious scruples, as for fear it would bring 
him bad luck. The rest of the Decalogue did 
not seem to bother him in the least. 

After having once started on an errand or a 
journey, it is unlucky to go back, even if you 
have forgotten something of importance. All 
persons afflicted with frequent lapses of mem- 
ory should govern themselves accordingly. 
This belief seems clearly grounded upon the 
dreadful fate of Lot's wife. 

It was always held unlucky to break a piece 
of crockery, as a second and a third piece 
shortly will be broken also. This is closely 
associated with the belief respecting the num- 
ber three, elsewhere referred to. In New Eng- 
land it is commonly said that if you should 
break something on Monday, bad luck will fol- 
low you all the rest of the week. 

To stumble in going upstairs is also unlucky ; 
perhaps to stumble at any other time. Friar 
Lawrence says, in " Romeo and Juliet," — 
"They stumble that run fast.' 1 

Of Evil Omens 149 

Two persons washing their hands in the same 
basin or in the same water will quarrel unless 
the sign of the cross be made in the water. 

It is considered unlucky to take off a ring 
that was the gift of a deceased person, an en- 
gagement, or a marriage ring. 

The term " hoodoo," almost unknown in the 
Northern United States a few years ago, has 
gradually worked its way into the vernacular, 
until it is in almost everybody's mouth. It is, 
perhaps, most lavishly employed during the 
base-ball season, as every one knows who reads 
the newspapers, to describe something that has 
cast a spell upon the players, so bringing about 
defeat. The term is then " hoodooing." The 
hoodoo may be anything particularly ugly or 
repulsive seen on the way to the game — a 
deformed old woman, a one-legged man, a lame 
horse, or a blind beggar, for instance. Most 
players are said to give full credit to the power 
of the hoodoo to bewitch them. Indeed, the 
term has been quite widely taken up as the 
synonym for bad luck, or, rather, the cause of 

150 Myths and Fables 

it, even by the business world. If this is not, 
to all intents, a belief in witchcraft, it certainly 
comes very close to what passed for witchcraft 
two hundred years ago. 

This vagrant and ill-favored word " hoodoo " 
is, again, a corruption of the voudoo of the igno- 
rant blacks of the South, with whom, in fact, it 
stands, as some say, for witchcraft, pure and 
simple, or, perhaps, the Black Art, as practised 
in Africa ; while others pronounce it to be a 
religious rite only. More than this, the voudoo 
also is a mystic order, into whose unholy mys- 
teries the neophyte is inducted with much bar- 
baric ceremony. In the case of a white woman 
so initiated in Louisiana, this consisted in the 
elect chanting a weird incantation, while the 
novitiate, clad only in her shift, danced within a 
charmed circle formed of beef bones and skele- 
tons, toads' feet and spiders, with camphor and 
kerosene oil sprinkled about it. All those pres- 
ent join in the dance to the accompaniment of 
tom-toms and other rude instruments, until phys- 
ical exhaustion compels the dancers to stop. 

Of Evil Omens 151 

In its main features we find a certain resem- 
blance between the voudoo dance of the igno- 
rant blacks and the ghost dance practised by 
some of the wild Indians of the West, and by 
means of which they are wrought up to the 
highest pitch of frenzy, so preparing the way 
for an outbreak, such as occurred a few years 
ago with most lamentable results. 

While the sportipg^lraternityl^ notoriously 
addicted to the hoodotrsuperstition, yet it is by 
no means confined to them alone. Not long 
ago a statement went the rounds of the news- 
papers to the effect that the superstitious wife 
of a certain well-known millionnaire had refused 
to go on board of their palatial yacht because 
one of the crew had been fatally injured by fall- 
ing down a hatchway. In plain English, the 
accident had hoodooed the ship. 

But the power of the hoodoo would seem not 
to be limited to human beings, according to this 
statement, taken from the columns of a reput- 
able newspaper : " A meadow at Biddeford, 
Maine, is known as the hoodoo lawn, for the 

152 Myths and Fables 

reason that rain follows every time it is mowed, 
before the grass can be cured. It is said that 
this has occurred for twenty-five consecutive 

To break the spell of the hoodoo, it is as 
essential to have a mascot, over which the 
malign influence can have no power, as to 
have an antidote against poisons. Therefore 
most ball-players carry a mascot with them. 
Sometimes it is a goat, or a dog, or again a 
black sheep, that is gravely led thrice around 
the field before the play begins. 

It is not learned whether or not the differ- 
ent kinds of mascot have ever been pitted 
against each other. Perhaps the effect would 
be not unlike that described by Cicero in his 
treatise on divination. He says there that 
Cato one day met a friend who seemed in a 
very troubled frame of mind. On being asked 
what was the matter, the friend replied : " Oh ! 
my friend, I fear everything. This morning 
when I awoke, I saw, shall I say it ? a mouse 
gnawing my shoe." "Well," said Cato, re- 

Of Evil Omens 153 

assuringly, " calm yourself. The prodigy 
really would become frightful if the shoe had 
been gnawing the mouse.'* 

Naval ships often carry a goat, or some 
other animal, as a mascot, in deference to 
Jack's well-known belief in its peculiar efficacy ; 
and in naval parades the goat usually gravely 
marches in the procession, and comes in for 
his share of the applause. Simple-minded 
Jack christens his favorite gun after some 
favorite prize-fighter. And why not? since 
the great Nelson, himself, carried a horse-shoe 
nailed to his mast-head, and since even some 
of our college foot-ball teams bring their mas- 
cots upon the field just like other folk. 

The war with Spain could hardly fail of 
bringing to light some notable examples of 
the superstitions of sailors concerning mascots. 
The destruction of Admiral Cervera's fleet, 
off Santiago de Cuba, by the American fleet, 
under command of Admiral Sampson, is freshly 
remembered. One of the destroyed Spanish 
ships was named the Colon. Twenty-six days 

154 Myths and Fables 

after the battle, the tug-boat Right Arm of the 
Merritt-Chapman Wrecking Company visited 
the Colon, for the purpose of raising the Span- 
ish cruiser. The only living thing aboard was 
a black and white cat. For nearly a month it 
had been the sole crew and commander of the 
wrecked battle-ship. 

The crew of the Right Arm took posses- 
sion of the cat, adopted it as a mascot and 
named it Tomas Cervera. But Cervera brought 
ill luck. When Lieutenant Hobson raised the 
Maria Teresa the rescued cat was placed 
aboard her, to be brought to America. 

The Maria Teresa never reached these shores, 
and when the vessel grounded off the Bahamas 
the cat fell into the hands of the natives. He 
was rescued the second time, and at last 
reached America, a passenger on the United 
States repair ship Vulcan. 

It will be admitted that this cat did not 
belie that article of the popular belief, which 
ascribes nine lives to his tribe. But poor 
Tomas Cervera did not long survive the vari- 

Of Evil Omens 155 

ous hardships and perils to which he had been 
subjected. He gave up the ghost shortly 
after all these were happily ended. 

Speaking of ships and sailors, it is well 
known to all sea-faring folk that the reputa- 
tion of a ship for being lucky, or unlucky, is 
all important. And this reputation may begin 
at the very moment when she leaves the stocks. 
Should she, unfortunately, stick on the ways, 
in launching, a bad name is pretty sure to 
follow her during the remainder of her career, 
and to be an important factor in her ability 
to ship a crew. Even the practice of christen- 
ing a ship with a bottle of wine is neither more 
nor less than a survival of pagan superstition 
by which the favor of the gods was invoked. 

The superstition regarding thirteen persons 
at the table also boasts a remarkable vitality. 
Just when or how it originated is uncertain. 
It has been surmised, however, that the Pas- 
chal Supper was the beginning of this notion, 
for there were thirteen persons present then, 
and what followed is not likely to be forgotten. 

156 Myths and Fables 

It has, perhaps, been the subject of greater 
ridicule than any other popular delusion, prob- 
ably from the fact of its touching convivial 
man in his most tender part, — to wit, the 
stomach. In London some of the literary and 
other lights even went to the trouble of form- 
ing a Thirteen Club for the avowed purpose 
of breaking down the senseless notion that if 
thirteen persons were to sit down to dinner 
together, one of them would die within a twelve- 
month. The motto of this club should have 
been, " All men must die, therefore all men 
should dine." If the club's proceedings showed 
no lack of invention and mother wit, we still 
should very much doubt their efficacy toward 
achieving the avowed end and aim of the 
club's existence, for surely such extravagances 
could have no other effect than to raise a 
laugh. We reproduce an account of the affair 
for the reader's amusement : — 

" At the dinner of the club, above mentioned, 
there were thirteen tables, a similar number of 
guests being seated at each table. The serving 

Of Evil Omens 157 

of the meal was announced by the "shivering" 
of a mirror placed on an easel, a ceremony per- 
formed by two cross-eyed waiters ! Having put 
on green neckties and placed a miniature skele- 
ton in their button-holes, the guests passed 
under a ladder into the dining room. The 
tables were lighted with small lamps placed on 
plaster skulls ; skeletons were suspended from 
the candles, which were thirteen in number on 
each table ; the knives were crossed ; the salt- 
stands were in the shape of coffins, with head- 
stones bearing the inscription, ' In memory of 
many senseless superstitions, killed by the 
London Thirteen Club, 1894/ The salt-spoons 
were shaped like a grave-digger's spade. 

" After the dinner was fairly started, the 
chairman asked the company to spill salt with 
him, and later on he invited them to break look- 
ing-glasses with him, all of which having been 
done, he presented the chairmen of the different 
tables with a knife each, on condition that 
nothing was given for them in return. An 
undertaker, clothed in a variety costume, which 

158 Myths and Fables 

would have done credit to a first-class music 
hall, was then introduced ' to take orders,' but 
he was quickly shuffled out of the room." 

These unbelieving jesters, who so audaciously 
defied the fatal omen, did not seem to realize 
that a popular superstition is not to be laughed 
out of existence in so summary a manner. 
Equally futile was the attempt to put it to a 
scientific test, as, if tried by that means, it ap- 
pears that, of any group of thirteen persons, the 
chances are about equal that one will die within 
the year. Therefore, the attempt to break the 
spell by inviting a greater number of persons 
could have the effect only of increasing, rather 
than diminishing, the probability of the event so 
much dreaded. 1 

It has been stated in the newspapers, from 
which I take it, that there are many hotels in 
New York which contain no room numbered thir- 
teen. There are other hotels and office buildings 
wherein the rooms that are so numbered cannot 
be leased except once in a great while. In 

1 Quetelet, on the calculation of probabilities. 

Of Evil Omens 159 

large hotels one custom is to letter the first 
thirteen rooms and call them parlors. Another 
custom is simply to skip the unpopular number, 
and call the thirteenth room " No. 14." A man 
who had just rented an office which bears the 
objectionable number, in a down-town building, 
asserts that though he has no superstitious 
dread of the number, he finds that others will 
not transact business with him in that office. I 
also find it stated as a fact that the new monster 
passenger steamship Oceanic has no cabin or 
seat at the table numbered thirteen. 

It was again instanced as a deathblow to a 
certain candidate's hopes of a reelection to the 
United. States Senate, that repeated ballotings 
showed him to be just thirteen votes short of the 
required number. From the same state, Penn- 
sylvania, comes this highly significant an- 
nouncement in regard to a base-ball team : 
" Because the team left here on a very rainy day, 
and on a train that pulled out from track No. 13, 
the superstitious local fans (sic) are in a sad 
state of mind to-night, regarding the coincidence 

160 Myths and Fables 

as an evil omen." Again the small number of 
six, in the graduating class of a certain high 
school, was gravely referred to as owing to there 
having originally been thirteen in that class. 

At the same time there are exceptions which, 
however, the superstitious may claim only go to 
prove the rule. For instance the Thirteen Col- 
onies did not prove so very unlucky a venture. 

As regards the superstitions of actors and 
actresses, the following anecdote, though not 
new, probably as truly reflects the state of 
mind existing among the profession to-day as 
it did when the incident happened to which it 
refers. When the celebrated Madame Rachel 
returned from Egypt in 1857, she asked 
Arsene Houssaye, within a year thereafter, 
the question : " Do you recollect the dinner 
we had at the house of Victor Hugo ? There 
were thirteen of us, — Hugo and his wife, you 
and your wife, Rebecca and I, Girardin and 
his wife, Gerard de Nerval, Pradier, Alfred de 
Musset, Perree, of the Siecle, and the Count 
d'Orsay, thirteen in all. Well, where are they 

Of Evil Omens 161 

to-day ? Victor Hugo and his wife are in 
Jersey, your wife is dead, Madame de Girar- 
din is dead, my sister Rebecca is dead, De 
Nerval, Pradier, Alfred de Musset, and 
D'Orsay are dead. I say no more. There 
remain but Girardin and you. Adieu, my 
friends. Never laugh at thirteen at a table." 

The world, however, especially that part of 
it represented by diners out, goes on believing 
in the evil augury just the same. A dinner 
party is recalled at which two of the invited 
guests were given seats at a side table on 
account of that terrible bugbear " thirteen at 
table." When mentioning the circumstance 
to a friend, he was reminded of an occasion 
where an additional guest had been summoned 
in haste to break the direful spell. 

Unquestionably, the newspapers might do 
much toward suppressing the spread of super- 
stition by refusing to print such accounts as 
this, taken from a Boston daily paper, as prob- 
ably nothing is read by a certain class with 
greater avidity. It says "that engine No. 13 


1 62 Myths and Fables 

of the Boston, Hoosac Tunnel & Western 
Railroad has, within three weeks, killed no 
less than three men. The railway hands fear 
the locomotive, and say that its number is 
unlucky." It is true, we understand, that the 
standard number of a wrecked locomotive, 
that has been in a fatal accident, is not unfre- 
quently changed in deference to this feeling 
on the part of the engine-men. 

It is held to be unlucky to pass underneath 
a ladder, an act which indeed might be dan- 
gerous to life or limb should the ladder fall. 
But it is even harder to understand the phi- 
losophy of the dictum that to meet a squint- 
ing woman denotes ill luck. 

The bird was formerly accounted an un- 
lucky symbol, perhaps from the fact that 
good fortune, like riches, is apt to take to 
itself wings. The hooting of an owl, the 
croaking of a raven, the cry of a whip-poor- 
will, and even the sight of a solitary magpie 
were always associated with malignant influ- 
ences or evil presages. Poe's raven furnishes 

Of Evil Omens 163 

the theme for one of his best-known poems. 
And the swan was long believed to sing her 
own death-song. Be that as it may, the fact 
is well remembered that a ring, bearing the 
device of a bird upon it, or any other object 
having the image of the feathered kind, was 
not considered a suitable gift to a woman. 
That article of superstition, like some others 
that could be mentioned, has vanished before 
the resistless command of fashion, so com- 
pletely indeed, that birds of every known 
clime and plumage have since been considered 
the really proper adornment for woman's head- 

There is, however, an odd superstition con- 
nected with the magpie, an instance of which 
is found related by Lord Roberts, in "Forty- 
one Years in India." We could not do better 
than give it in his own words: "On the 15th 
July Major Cavagnari, who had been selected 
as the envoy and plenipotentiary to the Amir 
of Kabul, arrived in Kuram. I, with some 
fifty officers who were anxious to do honor 

164 Myths and Fables 

to the envoy and see the country beyond 
Kuram, marched with Cavagnari to within 
five miles of the crest of Shutargardan pass, 
where we encamped, and my staff and I dined 
that evening with the mission. After din- 
ner I was asked to propose the health of 
Cavagnari and those with him, but somehow 
I did not feel equal to the task : I was so 
thoroughly depressed, and my mind filled with 
such gloomy forebodings as to the fate of 
these fine fellows, that I could not utter a 

" Early next morning the Sirdar, who had 
been deputed by the Amir to receive the mis- 
sion, came into camp, and soon we all started 
for the top of the pass. . . . As we ascended, 
curiously enough, we came across a solitary 
magpie, which I should not have noticed had 
not Cavagnari pointed it out and begged me 
not to mention the fact of his having seen 
it to his wife, as she would be sure to con- 
sider it an unlucky omen. 

" On descending to the (Afghan) camp, we 

Of Evil Omens 165 

were invited to partake of dinner, served in 
the Oriental fashion on a carpet spread on 
the ground. Everything was done most lav- 
ishly and gracefully. Nevertheless, I could 
not feel happy as to the prospects of the mis- 
sion, and my heart sank as I wished Cava- 
gnari good-by. When we had proceeded a 
few yards in our different directions, we both 
turned round, retraced our steps, shook hands 
once more, and parted forever." 

The sequel is told in the succeeding chapter. 
" Between one and two o'clock on the morning 
of the 5th of September, I was awakened by 
my wife telling me that a telegraph man had 
been wandering around the house and calling 
for some time, but that no one had answered 
him. The telegram told me that my worst fears 
had been only too fully realized." Cavagnari 
and his party had been massacred by the 

Again, there are certain things which may 
not be given to a male friend (young, unmar- 
ried ministers excepted), such, for example, as 

1 66 Myths and Fables 

a pair of slippers, because the recipient will be 
sure, metaphorically speaking, to walk away 
from the giver in them. 

There is also current in some parts of New 
England a belief that it is unlucky to get one's 
life insured, or to make one's will, under the 
delusion that doing either of these things will 
tend to shorten one's life. This feeling comes 
of nothing less than a ridiculous fear of facing 
even the remote probability involved in the act ; 
and is of a piece with the studied avoidance of 
the subject of death, or willing allusion in any 
way, shape, or form to the dead, even of one's 
own kith and kin, quite like that singular belief 
held by the Indians which forbade any allusion 
to the dead whatsoever. 

Spilling the salt, as an omen of coming mis- 
fortune, is one of the most widespread, as well 
as one of the most deeply rooted, of popular 
delusions. It is said to be universal all over 
Asia, is found in some parts of Africa, and is 
quite prevalent in Europe and America to-day. 
Vain to deny it, the unhappy delinquent who 

Of Evil Omens 167 

is so awkward as to spill salt at the table 
instantly finds all eyes turned upon him. Worse 
still, the antidote once practised of flinging 
three pinches of salt over the left shoulder is 
no longer admissible in good society. Instantly 
every one present mentally recalls the omen. 
His host may politely try to laugh it off, but all 
the same, a visible impression of something 
unpleasant remains. 

Something was said in another place about 
the potency of the number " three " to effect 
a charm either for good or for evil. Firemen 
and railroad men are more or less given to the 
belief that if one fire or one accident occurs, it 
will inevitably be followed by two more fires or 
accidents. A headline in a Boston newspaper, 
now before me, reads, "The same old three 
fires in succession," and then hypocritically 
exclaims, " How the superstitious point to the 
recurrence ! " 

The superstition about railroad accidents is 
by no means confined to the trainmen, or other 
employees, but to some extent, at least, is shared 

1 68 Myths and Fables 

even by the higher officials, who point to their 
past experiences in the management of these 
iron highways as fully establishing, to their 
minds, certain conditions. One of these gen- 
tlemen once said to me, after a bad accident 
on his road, " It is not so much this one partic- 
ular accident that we dread, as what is com- 
ing after it." I also knew of a conductor who 
asked for a leave of absence immediately after 
the occurrence of a shocking wreck on the 

Although periodically confronted with a long 
series of most momentous events in the world's 
history that have happened on that day of 
the week, the superstition in regard to Friday, 
as being an unlucky day, has so far withstood 
every assault. It will not down. Whether it 
exists to so great an extent as formerly may 
be questioned, but that it does exist in full 
force, more especially among sailors, is certain. 
We have it on good authority that this self- 
tormenting delusion grew out of the fact that 
the Saviour was crucified on Friday, ever after 

Of Evil Omens 169 

stigmatized as "hangman's day," and, there- 
fore, set apart for the execution of criminals, 
now as before time. 

It is not wholly improbable that some share 
of the odium resting upon Friday may arise 
from the fact of its being so regularly ob- 
served as a day of fasting, or at least maigre, 
by some religionists. 

In some old diaries are found entries like the 
following : " A vessel lost going out of Port- 
land against the advice of all ; all on board, 
twenty-seven, drowned." It is easy to under- 
stand how such an event would leave an indeli- 
ble impression upon the minds of a whole 

Notwithstanding the belief is openly scouted 
from the pulpit, and is even boldly defied by 
a few unbelieving sea-captains, the fact remains 
that there are very many sober-minded persons 
who could not be induced on any account to 
begin a journey on Friday. There are others 
who will not embark in any new enterprise, or 
begin a new piece of work on that day; and 

170 Myths and Fables 

still others who even go so far as to say that 
you must not cut your nails on Friday. A man 
could be named who could not be tempted to 
close a bargain on any other day of the week 
than Thursday. It is a further fact, which all 
connected with operating railroads will readily 
confirm, that Friday is always the day of least 
travel on their lines. This circumstance alone 
seems conclusive as to the state of popular 
feeling. Apparently a brand has been set 
upon the sixth day of the week for all time. 
Numerous instances might be given to show 
that men of the strongest intellect are as falli- 
ble in this respect as men of the lowest ; but 
one such will suffice. Lord Byron once refused 
to be introduced to a lady because it was Fri- 
day ; and on this same ill-starred day he would 
never pay a visit. 

" See the moon through the. glass, 
You'll have trouble while it lasts. 11 

This warning couplet is still a household 
word in many parts of New England. It has 
been observed that even those sceptical persons 

Of Evil Omens 171 

who profess to put no faith in it whatever, gen- 
erally take good care to keep on the right side 
of the window-glass. As bearing upon this 
branch of the general subject an incident is 
related by a reputable authority, as having 
occurred at a party given, not many years ago, 
by a gentleman holding a considerable station 
in life. It is therefore repeated here word for 

" In the midst of a social chat, at the close of 
the day, a footman rather briskly entered the 
drawing-room, and walked up to the back of 
the chair of the hostess and whispered some- 
thing in her ear ; she immediately closed her 
eyes and gave her hand to the man, and was 
forthwith led by him from the room. The 
guests were rather astonished, but after the 
lapse of a few moments the lady returned and 
resumed her seat. 

" Her sudden departure having occasioned a 
rather uneasy pause in the conversation, she 
felt it necessary to state the cause of her singu- 
lar conduct. She then told us that the New 

172 Myths and Fables 

Harvest Moon had just made its appearance, 
and it was her custom to give a crown to any 
of her servants that first brought the informa- 
tion to her when that event occurred ; and that 
the reason why she closed her eyes, and was 
led by the footman out of the room to the open 
air, was that she might avoid the evil conse- 
quences that were sure to happen to her if she 
obtained her first glimpse of the Harvest Moon 
through a pane of glass. This lady was highly 
accomplished, and possessed remarkable sagac- 
ity upon most subjects, but was nevertheless 
a slave to a groundless fear of evil befalling her 
if she saw this particular New Moon in any 
other way than in the open air." 

It is passing strange, however, that the 
gentle and beautiful Queen of the Night 
should have been mostly associated with a 
malignant influence. Juliet pleads with Romeo 
not to swear by the " inconstant moon." The 
traditional witch gathers her simples only by 
the light of the moon, as at no other time do 
they possess the same virtues to work miracu- 

Of Evil Omens 173 

lous cures or potent spells. It is also an old 

belief that if a person goes to sleep with the 

moonbeams shining full upon his uncovered 

face, he will be moonstruck, or become an 

idiot. I well remember to have seen the officer 

of the watch awaken a number of sleepers, who 

had taken refuge on the deck of a vessel from 

the stifling heat below. Milton speaks of 

"Moping melancholy 
And moonstruck madness," 

which has become incorporated with the lan- 
guage under the significant nickname of 
" limy." 

When we consider the already long list of 
material or immaterial objects threatening us 
with dire misfortune, the wonder is how poor 
humanity should have survived so many dan- 
gers ever impending over it like the sword of 
Damocles. Really, we seem " walking between 
life and death." The catalogue is, however, by 
no means exhausted. A picture, particularly if 
it be a family portrait, falling down from the 
wall, bodes a death in the family, or at least 

174 Myths and Fables 

some great misfortune. This incident, some- 
what startling, it must be confessed, to weak 
nerves, has been quite effectively used in 

Notwithstanding it is the national color of 
Ireland, green has the name of being unlucky. 
More strange still is the statement made by 
Mr. Parnell's biographer that the famous Irish 
leader could not bear the sight of green. 
Queer notion this, in a son of the Emerald 
Isle! Mr. Barry O'Brien goes on to say that 
Parnell " would not pass another person on the 
stairs ; was horror-stricken to find himself sit- 
ting with three lighted candles ; that the fall of 
a picture in a room made him dejected for the 
entire afternoon ; and that he would have noth- 
ing to say to an important bill, drawn up by a 
colleague, because it happened to contain thir- 
teen clauses." It is added that the sight of 
green banners, at the political meetings he 
addressed, often unnerved him. 

The singular actions of a pet cat have 
recently gained wide currency and wider com- 

Of Evil Omens 175 

ment in connection with the ill-fated steamer 
Portland, which went down with all on board, 
during the great gale of November 27, 1898. 
Not a soul was left to tell the tale. It was 
remarked .that puss came off the boat before 
the regular hour for sailing had arrived, and 
though she had never before been known to 
miss a trip, she could not be called or coaxed 
back on board, and the doomed craft therefore 
sailed without her. As a matter of fact, it has 
been noticed that in times of great disasters, 
like that just related, superstition that has lain 
dormant for a time, always shows a new vigor, 
and finds a new reason for being. 

In the course of my rambles along the New 
England coast, I found many people holding to 
beliefs of one sort or another, who hotly re- 
sented the mere suggestion that they were super- 
stitious. The quaint and curious delusions which 
have become ingrained in their lives from gen- 
eration to generation, they do not regard in 
that light. For one thing they believe that if a 
dead body should remain in the house over 

176 Myths and Fables 

Sunday, there will be another death in the 
family before the year is out. 

The ticking of the death-watch, once believed 
to forebode the approaching dissolution of some 
member of the family, so terrifying to our fa- 
thers and mothers, is now, fortunately, seldom 
heard or little regarded. While the supersti- 
tion did prevail, there was nothing so calcu- 
lated to strike terror to the very marrow of the 
appalled listeners as the noise of this harmless 
little beetle, only a quarter of an inch long, 
tapping away in the decaying woodwork of an 
ancient wainscot. 

There is no end of legendary matter concern- 
ing clocks. Sometimes nervous people have 
been frightened half out of their wits at hearing 
a clock that had stopped, suddenly strike the 
hour. Clocks have been known to stop, too, 
at the exact hour when a death took place in 
the house. But even more startling was an 
instance, lately vouched for by reputable wit- 
nesses, of a clock, of the coffin pattern, of 
course, from which the works had been removed, 

Of Evil Omens 177 

playing this same grewsome trick. The first 
case might be accounted for, rationally, by some 
fault in the mechanism, or some rusty spring 
suddenly set in motion ; but all theories neces- 
sarily fail with clocks without works. Admoni- 
tions or warnings are often associated with 
clocks, as has been noticed in connection with 
marriage customs. And the mystical relation 
between time and eternity is often brought to 
mind by the stopping of the watch in a drowned 
person's pocket, or the relation of some curious 
legend like the following, without comment or 
qualification, in a reputable newspaper : — 

" There is a curious legend about the old 
clock, which is to be superseded by a new one, 
at Washington, Pennsylvania. It is stated that 
about twenty years ago a person was hung in 
the courtyard. The clock, which had always 
tolled out the hour regularly, stopped at the 
hour of two o'clock, being the hour at which 
the drop fell that sent the unfortunate into 
eternity. Since that time, many aver, the clock 
has never struck again." 

178 Myths and Fables 

So, also, the howling of a dog, either by day 
or by night, under a sick person's window, is to 
this day held by the weak-minded to portend 
the death of that person. Some writers think 
they have traced this belief to the symbolism 
of ancient mythology, where the dog stands for 
the howling night-wind, on which the souls of 
the dead rode to the banks of the Styx, but this 
hypothesis seems quite far-fetched. 

The winding-sheet in the candle is another 
self-tormenting belief of evil portent, now hap- 
pily gone out with the candle. 

Then again, to pass from this subject, a 
single case of nosebleed often excites the live- 
liest fears on the part of nervous people, on 
account of a very old belief that it was a sure 
omen of a death taking place in the family. 
Not long ago the following choice morsel met 
my eye while reading in a book : " Our steward 
has this moment lost a drop of blood, which 
involuntarily fell from his pug nose. 'There,' 
said he, 'I have lost my mother — a good 
friend.' " 

Of Evil Omens 179 

Breaking a looking-glass denotes that a death 
will take place in the family within the year. 
This mode of self-torture is supposed to derive 
its origin from the great use formerly made of 
mirrors by magicians and other obsolete im- 
postors in carrying on their mystical trade. 
Astrologers also made use of the looking-glass 
in practising the art of divination or foretelling 
events, probably by means of some such cun- 
ning contrivances as are now employed with 
startling effects by our own "wizards" and 
"necromancers." Quite naturally the innocent 
glass itself came to be looked upon by the 
ignorant with superstitious awe, and the break- 
ing of one as the sure forerunner of calamity. 
We do not think, however, that this old super- 
stition is by any means as widely prevalent as it 
once was. 

It is pleasing to chronicle the total disap- 
pearance of that terrible bugaboo, the Evil Eye, 
which so long kept our ancestors in a state of 
nervous apprehension fearful to contemplate. 
It is now only perpetuated by a saying. So 

180 Myths and Fables 

with that other equally repulsive belief in the 
efficacy of touching a dead body, as a means of 
convicting a suspected murderer by the fresh 
bleeding from the wound. Both of these super- 
stitions were fully accepted by the first settlers 
of New England, and perhaps also in other of 
the colonies. John Winthrop relates a very 
harrowing case of infanticide, in which this 
monstrous test was put in practice to convict 
the erring mother. 1 The superstition is said to 
be of German origin. 

The following very curious piece of supersti- 
tion is found in Colonel May's Journal of his 
trip to the Ohio, early in the century. It 
seems that a man had fallen into the river 
and was drowned before help could reach him. 
The following method was employed to recover 
the body. First they took the shirt which the 
drowned man had last worn, put a whole loaf 
of good, new bread, weighing four pounds, into 

1 May Martin was made to touch the face of her dead child 
(murdered by her to prevent a discovery), the fresh blood came 
forth, "whereupon she confessed." 

Of Evil Omens 181 

it, and tied it up carefully into a bundle. The 
bundle was then taken in a boat to the place 
where the man had fallen in, a line and tackle 
attached to it, and then set afloat on the water. 
The rescuers said that the bread would float 
until it should come directly over the body, 
when it would sink and thus discover the loca- 
tion of the dead man. Unfortunately, the line 
was not long enough, so that when the loaf 
filled witjj water and sank, the tackle disap- 
peared with it. 



"Three times all in the dead of night, 
A bell was heard to ring." — TickelL 

T TAUNTED houses have proved an insu- 
■*■ ■*■ perable stumbling-block to those wise- 
acres who no sooner insist that superstition has 
died out than the familiar headline in the daily 
paper, "A haunted house," stares them full in 
the face. It is believed that many such houses 
stand tenantless to-day because of the secret 
fear they inspire in the minds of the timid or 
superstitious, who, quite naturally, shrink from 
living under the same roof with disembodied 


Haunted Houses 183 

spirits. It has already been noted that M. 
Camille Flammarion is a firm believer in 
haunted houses. Here is what he has to say 
upon that much debated subject: — 

" There is no longer any room to doubt the 
fact that certain houses are haunted. 

" I began the scientific studies of these ques- 
tions on November 15, 1861, and I have con- 
tinued it ever since. I have received more than 
four thousand letters upon these questions from 
the learned men of every land, and I am glad 
to be able to say that some of the most interest- 
ing letters come from America." 

For every haunted house there must, of 
course, be an invisible intruder who comes 
only in the small hours, when the effects of 
its unwelcome presence would, of course, be 
most terrifying to weak nerves. But it is to 
be remarked that we hear nothing nowadays 
of the old-time, hair-raising, blood-curdling 
ghost whose coming forebode something terri- 
ble about to happen, or who had some awful 
revelation to make. That type of ghost has 

184 Myths and Fables 

passed away. The modern ghost never makes 
set speeches in a sepulchral voice or leaves a 
palpable smell of brimstone behind. It comes 
rather in a spirit of mischief-making, shown in 
such petty annoyances as setting the house bells 
ringing, overturning articles of furniture, twitch- 
ing the bedclothes from off a sleeping person in 
the coldest of cold nights, putting out the lights, 
or making a horrible racket, first in one room, 
then in another, as if it revelled in pure wanton- 
ness of purpose. In short, there is no limit 
to the ingenious deviltries perpetrated by this 
nocturnal disturber of domestic peace and 

After two or three sleepless nights, followed 
by days of quaking apprehension, the occu- 
pants usually move out, declaring that they 
would not live in the house if it were given 
to them. And so it stands vacant indefinitely, 
shunned by all to whom its evil reputation has 
become known, a visible monument of active 

That all these things have happened as 

Haunted Houses 185 

lately as in this year of grace (1900) is too 
well known to be denied. And as most people 
would desire to shun publicity in such a matter, 
there are probably very many cases that never 
reach the public eye at all. One such is re- 
ported of a family at Charlestown, Massachu- 
setts, being disturbed by strange noises, as of 
some one pounding on the walls or floors at 
all hours of the night. Even the police, when 
summoned, failed to lay hands on the invisi- 
ble tormentor, who, like the ghost in Hamlet, 
was here, there, and nowhere in a jiffy. 

One of the most singular cases that have 
come to my knowledge, perhaps because the 
unaccountable disturbances happened in the 
daytime, whereas they habitually occur only in 
the night-time, when churchyards are supposed 
to yawn, was that of a haunted schoolhouse. 
This was downright bravado. If we do not err, 
in this case a bell was repeatedly rung during 
the regular sessions, by no visible agency, to 
the amazement of both teachers and scholars. 
After a vain search for the cause, the school- 

1 86 Myths and Fables 

house was shut up, and so remained for a con- 
siderable time, a speechless but tangible witness 
to the general belief that the devil was at the 
bottom of it all. 

Not many generations ago, when ghosts were 
perhaps more numerous than at present, there 
were professional exorcists who could be hired 
to clear the premises of ghosts or no pay ; but 
this is now a lost art. As Shakespeare says: — 

" No exorciser harm thee! 
Nor no witchcraft charm thee! 
Ghost unlaid forbear thee! 11 

While upon this interesting subject it may be 
instructive to know what our ancestors some- 
times suffered from similar visitations. We 
take the following extract from Ben Franklin's 
New England Courant, of 1 726 : — 

" They write from Plymouth, that an extraor- 
dinary event has lately happened in that neigh- 
borhood, in which, some say, the Devil and the 
man of the house are very much to blame. 
The man it seems, would now and then in a 
frolic call upon the Devil to come down the 

Haunted Houses 187 

chimney ; and some little time after the last in- 
vitation, the goodwife's pudding turned black in 
the boiling, which she attributed to the Devil's 
descending the chimney, and getting into the 
pot upon her husband's repeated wishes for 
him. Great numbers of people have been to 
view the pudding, and to inquire into the cir- 
cumstances ; and most of them agree that so 
sudden a change must be produced by a pre- 
ternatural power. However, 'tis thought it will 
have this good effect upon the man, that he will 
no more be so free with the Devil in his cups, 
lest his Satanic Majesty should again unluckily 
tumble into the pot." 

But houses are by no means the only things 
subject to these astounding visitations. Dark 
and secluded ponds, thick swamps, and barren 
hillsides often bear that unsavory reputation 
to-day, it may be from association with some 
weird tale or legend, or mayhap because such 
places seldom fail, of themselves, to produce a 
certain effect upon an active imagination. Let 
any such person, who has ever been lost in some 

1 88 Myths and Fables 

thick forest, recall his sensations upon first 
making the unwelcome discovery. The solemn 
old woods then seem all alive with — 

" The dim and shadowy armies of our unquiet dreams, 
Their footsteps brush the dewy fern and print the 
shaded streams. 11 

As regards haunted ships, the following inci- 
dent, taken down as literally as I could tran- 
scribe it at the time, from the lips of a seafaring 
friend, speaks for itself : — 

" 'Twas some dozen year ago, may be less, 
may be more — beats all how time travels when 
you've turned the half-century post — I was 
aboard of the old Paul Pry — queer name, now, 
warn't it ? We was a lyin' in Havana harbor, 
all snug, about a mile from shore. Well, the 
mate he was on watch. In port, you know, 
ships always keep slack watch. Our'n was light, 
nothin' in her, hold all swep' out clean that very 
day, 'cause we was to begin takin' in sugar and 
molasses in the mornin'. All hands were off in 
the ship's boat visitin' another ship — all 'cept 
the steward. The old man, he was ashore. 

Haunted Houses 189 

"I'm slow, but you just hold your hosses. 
All to once't the mate thought he heern some- 
body walkin' back'ards and for'ards plumb down 
in the hold. He walked to the open hatch and 
called down, ' Who's there ? ' No answer. He 
listened. No sound. Thinkin' it might pos- 
sibly have been the steward getting his firewood, 
the mate went for'ard to the steward's room to 
see if it was so, and found him fast asleep in his 
bunk. That settled it. Nobody aboard but 
them two. 

" The mate he said nothin' to nobody, but got 
a lantern and slipped quietly down the ladder 
into the hold, determined to find out who was 
skylarkin' there, for I tell you the mate he was 
a game one all the time, and don't you b'leeve 
he warn't ! 

" He hunted high and low, from the fore- 
peak to the run, but not a soul was to be seen 
anywhere ; but just as soon as he stood still 
he would hear those myster'ous footsteps go 
trampin' fore and aft, fore and aft, as plain as 
day, right by him, where he stood. 

190 Myths and Fables 

" By this time the mate had got pretty well 
worked up, I want you to know, so he just gin 
one kinder skeered look around him, and then 
hustled himself off up that ladder just a leetle 
mite faster than he came down, wonderin' to 
himself what it all could mean, and thinkin' all 
sorts of things to once't. 

" Then he went and woke up the steward, and 
both on 'em went and listened fust at one hatch, 
then at t'other, and sure enough that consarned 
tramp, tramp, tramp, was a-goin' on agin just 
the same as before. Then they pulled on the 
hatches. But, Lor' bless you, it warn't no use. 
Them critters down below had the bulge on 'em 
every time. 

" The mate he said nothin' 'cept to the old 
man, who looked as black as a new-painted 
deadeye with the lanyards unrove when he 
heerd it ; but somehow it leaked out among the 
crew before we sailed, and one or two ran away 
and laid low till the ship was clean out of the 

" It was gen'lly b'leeved fore and aft that them 

Haunted Houses 191 

there footsteps was a warnin'. Hows'ever, the 
thing quieted down some in a day or two, so 
nothin' more was heerd of the walkin' match 
down below ; but on the third day out, I think 
it was, we was struck by one of them northers, 
and in spite of all we could do we was drove 
ashore on a reef off the Bermudys, where the 
Paul Pry brought up all standin', and there she 
left her old bones. The wreckers they came 
and took off the crew, and fetched 'em all safe 
into Nassau. Now if that ship warn't haunted, 
I miss my guess. You can't most always tell 
about them things, I know ; but ef it was sky- 
larkin', all I've got to say is, it was a purty neat 
job, and don't you forget it." 

There are also places, as well as houses, 
which have the reputation of being haunted, 
sometimes through the commission of a hor- 
rible crime in that particular locality, some- 
times through the survival of some obscure 
local tradition. It matters not. Once give the 
place a bad name, and local tradition preserves 
the memory of it for many generations. Every 

192 Myths and Fables 

schoolboy is familiar with the weird legend of 
Nix's Mate, a submerged island at the entrance 
to Boston Harbor, where pirates were formerly 
hung in chains. Appledore Island, on the 
coast of New Hampshire, once had the name 
of being haunted by the uneasy ghost of one 
of Captain Kidd's piratical crew. The face of 
the spectre was said by those who had seen it, 
or who thought they had seen it, to be dreadful 
to behold, and the neck to bear the livid mark 
of the hangman's noose. Once, no islander 
could be found hardy enough to venture himself 
on Appledore after dark. Indeed, such places 
of fearsome reputation are found all over New 
England. For example, there is the shrieking 
woman of Marblehead, a remarkable spook, 
who at certain intervals of time could be heard 
uttering the most heartrending cries for mercy 
to her inhuman murderers. Then, again, there 
is the legend of Harry Main, reputed pirate and 
wrecker, who, by means of false lights, decoyed 
simple mariners to destruction on the shoals of 
Ipswich Bar, to which for his many crimes the 

Haunted Houses 193 

wretch was doomed to be chained down to the 
fatal spot to which he had lured his unsuspect- 
ing victims. 1 

Quite naturally these legends mostly cluster 
about the seacoast, but now and then one is 
found in the interior. One corner of the town 
of Chester, New Hampshire, lifts into view an 
eminence known as Rattlesnake Hill, one rocky 
side of which is pierced entirely through, thus 
forming a cavern of great notoriety in all the 
country round. This cavern is known as the 
Devil's Den, and many were the frightful 
stories told around winter firesides of the 
demons who, of yore, haunted it, and who, all 
unseen of mortal eyes, there held their mid- 
night orgies within the gloomy recesses of the 

There are two entrances to this cavern, both 
leading to an interior, subterranean chamber, 
whose vaulted roof is thickly studded with 
pear-shaped protuberances that are said to 
shine and sparkle when the flame of a torch 

1 For more about these places see " New England Legends." 

194 Myths and Fables 

sheds a ruddy glow upon them. According to 
popular tradition the path leading to the cavern 
was always kept open, summer and winter. 
Many years ago the poet Whittier put the 
legend into verse : — 

" Tis said that this cave is an evil place — 
The chosen haunt of a fallen race — 
That the midnight traveller oft hath seen 
A red flame tremble its jaws between, 
And lighten and quiver the boughs among, 
Like the fiery play of a serpent's tongue : 
That sounds of fear from its chambers swell — 
The ghostly gibber, — the fiendish yell ; 
That bodiless hands at the entrance wave — 
And hence they have named it the Demon's Cave." 

The persistent life of such local traditions as 
these fully attests to the belief of former gen- 
erations of men in the active agency of the Evil 
One in human affairs. And not only this, but 
this omnipresent devil has actually left his 
mark, legibly stamped, in so many places, and 
his name in so many others, that to doubt his 
actual presence were not only unreasonable but 
ungenerous. Even his footprints are found 

Haunted Houses 195 

here and there, yet strange to say, few repre- 
sent a cloven foot. The sonorous names, 
Devil's Pulpit and Devil's Cartway, are found 
within a few miles of each other on the coast 
of Maine. Moreover, do we not know from a 
perusal of the testimony given at the celebrated 
witchcraft trials, that the arch-fiend had been 
both seen and spoken with in propria persona? 

It used to be a not uncommon threat with 
quick-tempered people to say that if their 
wishes or expectations were not gratified to 
their liking, they would " haunt you " when 
they died. I myself have often heard this 
expression used either in jest or in earnest; 
and when used it never failed to leave a disa- 
greeable impression on the listener. 

It is not a great many years ago since an 
account was telegraphed all over the country, 
and duly appeared in the daily newspapers, of 
an honest citizen, a resident of one of the larg- 
est towns in Pennsylvania, whose wife " while 
yet in good health, frequently admonished her 
friends that she did not wish her body to be 

196 Myths and Fables 

buried in a certain wet graveyard. She threat- 
ened to ' speak to them ' if her wish was not 
granted, and went so far as to tell them how 
she would haunt them by coming back in 
ghostly form. The wife died, and her body 
was buried in the graveyard she had disliked. 
Now, strange as it may appear, her husband 
alleges that, since the funeral took place, she 
has appeared at his bedside several times each 
w r eek, always looking at him, and always mak- 
ing motions with her bony hands, as a mark of 
her displeasure. The husband says he is unable 
to sleep, and also that he is sure the strange 
midnight visitor is none other than his wife. 
He declares that whatever other people may 
think of it, he himself firmly believes that he 
has brought the enmity of the spirit upon him- 
self and children by their refusal to grant the 
wife's last request. The children's beds are 
also visited by her, as they say, and as a con- 
sequence the family is kept in constant alarm. 
One of the nearest neighbors has also seen the 
' spook ' several times, and corroborates the 

Haunted Houses 197 

family in every particular. The terrified hus- 
band relates the facts himself, and it is the 
responsibility of the man that warrants pub- 
lishing his story of the appearance of the 
spook. He gives tHe account of the strange 
happenings in a straightforward manner, which 
impresses a person with its truth, and he fur- 
ther says it is not imagination, a dream, or an 
attack of nightmare, but that the spook always 
comes when he is wide awake. The women 
and children of the neighborhood are in great 
terror, and the people hardly venture out of 
doors after dark." 

Upon the heels of this experience comes the 
following telegram to the Associated Press, 
thus disseminating, through its thousand chan- 
nels, superstition broadcast : — 

[ " Copyright, 1899, by The Associated Press.] 

"London, March 4, 1899. Another link in 
the chain of illfortune which has followed 
the famous Newstead Abbey was forged this 
week. It seems that a curse rests on the 

198 Myths and Fables 

abbey, and that the eldest has never succeeded 
to the estate. 

" Byron sold it to Col. Wildman in 1808, who 
died childless. The trustees sold it to Webb, 
the famous sportsman, whose eldest son died 
this week. Byron had the skull which was 
reported to have belonged to the ghost that 
haunted the abbey, and he used it as a punch 
bowl. Webb buried the skull, hoping to lay 
the ghost." 

As related to the general subject, it is too 
well known that certain persons to-day profess 
the power of conversing with disembodied 
spirits, to need more than a passing reference 
to this particular form of belief, which some 
hold to as firmly as to an article of religious 
faith, while others consider it a delusion or 
worse. Forty odd years ago spirit rappings 
convulsed society from one end of the country 
to the other. Spiritual seances were vehe- 
mently denounced from the pulpit, and while 
fully reported also by the press, the mediums 

Haunted Houses 199 

were charged with being rank impostors, hum- 
bugs, and the like. Alleged exposure followed 
exposure. Yet somehow the belief, such as it 
is, has contrived to outlive ridicule, calumny, 
and persecution — the common lot of every 
new and startling departure from the older 
beliefs — until to-day it has acquired not only 
the right to live, but also that of calm discussion. 

Dr. Samuel Johnson once asked the pertinent 
question, " If moral evil be consistent with the 
government of the Deity, why may not physical 
evil be consistent with it ? " The solemn declar- 
ation that the sins of the fathers shall be visited 
upon the children unto the third and fourth 
generations, sometimes recurs to us with start- 
ling force, more especially when the awful 
anathema is brought so near home to us as it is 
by the following veracious incident. 1 

There is a certain well-known locality in 
Essex County, Massachusetts, which has long 
borne the evil reputation of being haunted, 

1 Partly taken from Felt's "Annals of Ipswich," partly from 
the relations of others. 

200 Myths and Fables 

owing to the tradition that a cruel murder was 
committed there. According to some of the 
old people from whom I had the story, strange 
sights and sounds have been both seen and 
heard near the spot where the crime took place. 
For instance, a child would be heard crying out 
most pitifully, though nothing could be seen. 
One belated horseman positively declared that 
when passing this accursed place he had seen 
a child's coffin moving along the road, as 
he moved ; and that the spectre followed 
him almost into the town of Ipswich. It is 
said to be a fact that many of the old folks 
were afraid to pass this place of dread after 

As to the origin of the story, with its highly 
dramatic features, accounts differ somewhat; 
but considerable pains have been taken to arrive 
at the truth, since it is a matter of general noto- 
riety in the neighborhood referred to, although 
the actual facts may have no relation whatever 
to the "skeleton in the closet" disclosed by the 
story itself. 

Haunted Houses 201 

The story goes back to colonial times, and 
chiefly has to do with the two daughters of a 
family in good social standing. These young 
women had for a serving-maid a negro slave, 
who was treated with marked severity by her 
haughty mistresses. 

In time, the slave woman bore a child. 
Angered at the coming of the luckless little 
waif, the cruel sisters resolved to put it out of 
the way. One day the mother found it hid 
away in a hogshead of flax, in the garret. Fail- 
ing in this attempt, the sisters then took the 
child, stuck pins into its veins, and tried to 
smother it between two feather beds. When 
the infant was thought to be quite dead, the 
body was thrown into a brook, under a nearby 
bridge which spanned it. Life, however, was 
not quite extinct, so that the child's cries were 
heard by a passing traveller, who rescued it, but 
it soon after bled to death from the wounds 
inflicted upon it. 

Half crazed by this dastardly act, the forlorn 
mother then and there called down the curse of 

202 Myths and Fables 

God upon the inhuman sisters and their sons to 
all future generations. 

This is substantially the legend. Now for 
the sequel. It is said to be a fact that all the 
sons of the daughters of that family, and no 
others, have ever since been afflicted with a 
strange and incurable malady, the principal 
feature being a tendency to profuse bleeding 
from the most trifling cuts or wounds. After 
some days have elapsed, a mere scratch will 
begin to bleed copiously and so continue until 
the sufferer has lost so much blood that in some 
cases it is said he has bled to death. From 
this circumstance the persons so afflicted are 
known by the name of "bleeders." 

Mr. Felt asserts that the family in which this 
singular hemorrhage first appeared brought it 
with them from England, which, if true, would 
summarily dispose of the legend ; but his state- 
ment does not accord with the story as told on 
the spot. It is here related as it was told to 

Reference was earlier made to the old-time, 

Haunted Houses 203 

respectable ghost of our fathers, who like the 
ghost in Hamlet, made his unwelcome appear- 
ance only to subserve the ends of justice. This 
practical generation hardly realizes, we think, 
how lately the ghost was accepted in that char- 
acter, or how trustworthy his evidence was 
deemed by the purveyors of public intelligence. 
On turning over the files of the New England 
Weekly Journal of December 1, 1729, we came 
across the following ghost story, here repro- 
duced verbatim : — 

" Last week, one belonging to Ipswich came 
to Boston and related that some time since he 
was at Canso in Nova Scotia, and that on a 
certain day there appeared to him an appari- 
tion in blood and wounds, and told him that at 
such a time and place, mentioning both, he 
was barbarously murdered by one, who was at 
Rhode Island, and desired him to go to the 
said person and charge him with the said mur- 
der, and prosecute him therefor, naming sev- 
eral circumstances relating to the murder ; and 
that since his arrival from Canso to Ipswich, 

204 Myths and Fables 

the said apparition had appeared to him again, 
and urged him immediately to prosecute the 
said affair. The abovesaid person having 
related the matter was advised and encour- 
aged to go to Rhode Island and engage 
therein, and he accordingly set out for that 
place on Thursday last." 1 

Dr. Timothy Dvvight, in his "Travels," re- 
cords, with approval, the following singular 
superstition relative to the barberry, which is 
so common in New England. " This bush," 
he remarks, " is, in New England, generally 
believed to blast both wheat and rye. Its 
blossoms, which are very numerous, and con- 
tinue a considerable time, emit very copiously 
a pungent effluvium believed to be so acrimoni- 
ous as to injure essentially both these kinds of 

1 The rule, as laid down by Cotton Mather in " More Won- 
ders " was this : " When there has been a murder committed, 
an apparition of the slain party accusing of any man, altho' such 
apparitions have oftner spoke true than false, is not enough to 
convict the man of that murder; but yet it is a sufficient occa- 
sion for Magistrates to make a particular inquiry," etc. 

Haunted Houses 205 

" In Southborough, a township in the county 
of Worcester, a Mr. Johnson sowed with rye 
a field of new ground. At the south end of 
this field also grew a single barberry bush. 
The grain was blasted throughout the whole 
length of the field, on a narrow tract com- 
mencing at the bush and proceeding directly 
in the course, and to the extent, to which the 
blossoms were diffused by the wind." 

Certes, that was a most extraordinary be- 
lief held by the simple country folk in a 
certain quiet corner of New England, that 
candles made of the tallow obtained from a 
dead body, would, when lighted, render the 
person carrying them invisible ; and further- 
more that a lighted candle of this description, 
if placed within a bedroom, would effectually 
prevent a sleeping person from waking until 
it should be extinguished. This I had from 
the lips of a most intelligent and estimable 
lady, who knew whereof she spoke. 

I confess that on hearing this statement I 
realized that I had now found more than I 

206 Myths and Fables 

was looking for. But incredible as it may 
seem at first, all doubts were set at rest by the 
following article found among some fragments 
of old superstition in a certain treatise on that 
subject. Here is the article verbatim: — 

" The Hand of Glory is a piece of foreign 
superstition common in France, Germany, and 
Spain ; and is a charm used by housebreakers 
and assassins. It is the hand of a hanged man, 
holding a candle made of the fat of a hanged 
man, virgin wax, and siasme of Lapland. It 
stupefies those to whom it is presented, and 
renders them motionless, insomuch that they 
could not stir, any more than if they were 

I do not find any recent mention of the 
appearance of that ancient bugbear known as 
the Will-o'-the-wisp, or magical Jack-o'-lantern, 
associated with the unearthly light sometimes 
seen flitting about ancient graveyards. Sci- 
ence has practically accounted for this natural 
phenomenon to the general acceptance ; but 
science has not yet been able to do away with 

Haunted Houses 207 

the instinctive dread with which the vicinity 
of a graveyard is associated in most minds. I 
well remember how, when a lad, I dreaded to 
pass a graveyard after dark. There was a 
sickly feeling of something lurking among 
those ghostly looking tombstones. I looked 
another way. I whistled, I looked behind me. 
Vain effort ! I ran from the spot as if all the 
ghosts my fears had conjured up were close 
at my heels. 



" Methinks I hear, methinks I see 
Ghosts, goblins, fiends." — Burton. 

AT J"E approach a still different class of 
■ * evil omens, or such as are believed by 
many to "cast their shadows before," in such 
a manner as to prey upon the spirits, or 
show their visible effects in the daily actions 
of men, usually well balanced, with a feeling 
akin to respectful fear. Let other forms of 
superstition be never so mirth-provoking, the 
reality of this one, at least to those of an 


Of Presentiments 209 

imaginative or highly impressible nature, is 
such that we are sobered at once. What 
concerns such momentous events as life and 
death is really no jesting matter. 

There may be, probably is, a scientific ex- 
planation for those fancies that sometimes 
come over us, with a sinking feeling at the 
heart. Men usually keep silent. Women 
more often give utterance to their feelings. 
How many times have we heard this remark : 
" O dear, I feel as if something was going 
to happen ! " 

There is still another phase of the subject. 
Probably hundreds, perhaps thousands, could 
be found, who, at some time or other, have 
passed through some strange experience, which 
they are wholly unable to account for on any 
rational theory or ground whatever. Perhaps 
it has been to the inner man what the skele- 
ton in the closet is to the family home. 
Unfortunately, it is only in moments when 
men lay bare their inmost thoughts to each 
other that these things, so valuable from the 

210 Myths and Fables 

standpoint of psychology, leak out. What 
is, then, the secret power, which, in our wak- 
ing hours, our sober consciousness, is able to 
oppress our spirits like some hideous night- 
mare? In its nature it seems most often a 
warning of coming evil or future event, — in 
fact, an omen of which we obtain the knowl- 
edge by accident, or without design or pre- 
meditation. Were it not for the fear of 
ridicule, we are persuaded that a multitude 
of persons could testify to some very interest- 
ing phenomena of this kind, drawn from their 
own experiences. 

There was a woman whom I knew very well, 
in a little seaport of Maine, a respectable, 
middle-aged matron, who asserted that no one 
ever died in that village unless she had a warn- 
ing. Precisely what the nature of that warning 
was she would never divulge ; but it is never- 
theless a fact that she was often consulted 
by her neighbors when any one was taken 
seriously ill, and that her oracular dictum 
received full and entire credit among them. 

Of Presentiments 211 

In that same little seaport the superstition is 
current that a sick person will not die till 
ebb tide. As that goes out, so does the life. 
This particular article of superstitious faith 
still holds in some parts of England, we 
understand, and is made use of by Dickens 
in "David Copperfield." 

The following incident came to my knowl- 
edge while I was in the near neighborhood 
of the place where a recent shocking railroad 
accident had happened. Naturally, it was the 
one topic of conversation, far and near. The 
engine-man, an old and trusted servant of 
the company, went down with his engine in 
the wreck. While being dug out from under 
his engine, crushed and bleeding, the poor 
fellow said to his rescuers: "Three times I've 
seen a man on the track at this very place, 
and three times I've stopped my engine. I 
said this morning that I wouldn't go over the 
road again ; but couldn't get any one to take 
my place, and here I am." 

That a sinister presentiment should cross 

212 Myths and Fables 

one in moments of extreme peril, may be 
easily conceived, but why it should occur, and 
does occur, at times when no known danger 
threatens, or any mental or physical condition 
would seem to warrant it, is not so easily 
understood. Yet history is full of such ex- 
amples, related, too, not of the weaker sort, 
but of the strongest characters. Mr. Motley, 
in his " John of Barneveld," gives a vivid 
picture of Henry IV. of France just before 
his death. The great monarch was on the 
point of departure, at the head of the best 
appointed army he had ever commanded, for 
the war against Spain. " But he delayed for a 
few days to take part in the public festivities 
in honor of the coronation of his queen. 
These festivities he dreaded, and looked for- 
ward to them with gloomy forebodings. He 
was haunted with fears that they involved his 
own life, and that he should not survive 
them. He said many times to his favorite 
minister, Sully : ' I know not how it is, but 
my heart tells me that some misfortune is to 

Of Presentiments 213 

befall me. I shall never go out of it.' He 
had dreams, also, which assumed to him the 
force of revelations, that he was to die in a 
carriage, and at the first magnificent festival 
he gave. Sully asked him why he did not 
abandon the proposed festivities at the corona- 
tion, and actually went to the queen to per- 
suade her to countermand them. But she 
refused in high indignation, being, as is now 
supposed, in the conspiracy against his life. 
The result is well known : the king was 
assassinated in his carriage by Ravaillac, as 
the festivities were in progress." 

Every one remembers the curious incident 
in regard to Lord Thomas Lyttleton's vision, as 
related in Boswell's " Johnson," predicting the 
time of his death, and its exact fulfilment ; 
and Johnson's solemn comments thereon. " It 
is the most extraordinary thing that has hap- 
pened in my day. I heard it with my own 
ears from his uncle, Lord Westcote." Lord 
Byron once observed that several remarkable 
things had happened on his birthday, as they 

214 Myths and Fables 

also had to Napoleon. Marie Antoinette, too, 
was a firm believer in these presentiments. 
She thus declares herself in language that 
now seems prophetic: "At my wedding some- 
thing whispered to me that I was signing my 
death warrant. At the last moment I would 
have retreated if I could have done so." 

Our early New England historian, Winthrop, 
mentions a singular case of presentiment of 
death, experienced by one Baker, of Salem. 
This man, on going forth to his work, in the 
morning, told his wife he should never see 
her more. He was killed by a stick of tim- 
ber, falling upon him, that same day. 

It is quite true that we do not attach nearly 
as much importance to events happening a 
long time ago as to those occurring in our 
own day ; for one thing, perhaps, because 
they do not seem so easy of verification ; for 
another, because we choose to believe that 
they merely reflect the ignorance of a past 
age. That there is really no difference in the 
susceptibility of man to such premonitions, so 

Of Presentiments 215 

long as he shall be the creature of feeling, 
is proved by the most irrefragable testimony. 
The poet Whittier, who took a peculiar delight 
in the legendary tales of New England, has 
related one or two incidents that came within 
his own knowledge, to this effect. " A very 
honest and intelligent neighbor of mine," says 
the narrator, " once told me that at the pre- 
cise moment when his brother was drowned 
in the Merrimack River, many miles distant, he 
felt a sudden and painful sensation — a death- 
like chill upon the heart, such as he had 
never before experienced. And," adds the 
poet, " I have heard many similar relations." 

The following, he says, " are the facts," 
relative to another incident that happened in 
his vicinity. " In September, 1831, a worthy 
and highly esteemed inhabitant of this town 
(Haverhill, Mass.) died suddenly on the bridge 
over the Merrimack, by the bursting of a blood- 
vessel. It was just at daybreak, when he was 
engaged with another person in raising the 
draw of the bridge for the passage of a sloop. 

216 Myths and Fables 

The suddenness of the event, the excellent 
character of the deceased, and above all, a 
vague rumor that some extraordinary dis- 
closure was to be made, drew together a 
large concourse at the funeral. After the 
solemn services were concluded, Thomas, the 
brother of the dead man — himself a most 
exemplary Christian — rose up and desired to 
relate some particulars regarding his brother's 
death. He then stated — and his manner was 
calm, solemn, impressive — that more than a 
month previous to his death, his brother had 
told him that his feelings had been painfully 
disturbed by seeing, at different times on the 
bridge, a quantity of human blood ; that some- 
times while he was gazing upon it, it suddenly 
disappeared, as if removed by an invisible 
hand ; . . . that many times in the dusk of 
the evening, he had seen a vessel coming 
down the river, which vanished just as it 
reached the draw ; and that, at the same time, 
he had heard a voice calling in a faint and 
lamentable tone, ' I am dying ! ' and that the 

Of Presentiments 217 

voice sounded like his own : that then he 
knew the vision was for him, and that his 
hour of departure was at hand. Thomas, 
moreover, stated that a few days before the 
melancholy event took place, his brother, after 
assuring him that he would be called upon to 
testify to the accounts which he had given of 
the vision on the bridge, told him that he had 
actually seen the same vessel go up' the river 
whose spectral image he had seen in his 
vision, and that when it returned the fatal 
fulfilment would take place." 

Though of still earlier date, the remarkable 
premonition of Rev. Samuel Newman, of 
Rehoboth, will bear being repeated here. 
According to his biographer, he not only felt 
a certain presage of the approach of death, but 
seemed to triumph in the prospect of its being 
near. Yet he was apparently in perfect health, 
and preached a sermon from Job xiv. 14, "All 
the days of my appointed time will I wait till 
my change come." In the afternoon of the 
following Lord's Day,Jie asked the deacon to 

2i8 Myths and Fables 

pray with him, saying he had not long to live. 
As soon as he had finished his prayer he said 
the time was come when he must leave the 
world ; but his friends seeing no sign of 
approaching dissolution, thought it was merely 
the effect of imagination. Immediately he 
turned away, saying, " Angels, do your office ! " 
and expired on the spot. 

Lord Roberts of Kandahar relates the fol- 
lowing of himself : " My intention, when I left 
Kabul, was to ride as far as the Khyber Pass ; 
but suddenly a presentiment, which I have 
never been able to explain to myself, made me 
retrace my steps and hurry back toward Kabul 
— a presentiment of coming trouble which I can 
only characterize as instinctive. 

" The feeling was justified when, about half- 
way between Butkhak and Kabul, I was met 
by Sir Donald Stewart and my chief of the 
staff, who brought me the astounding news of 
the total defeat by Ayab Khan of Brigadier- 
general Burrows's brigade at Malwand, and 
of Lieutenant-general Primrose, with the re- 

Of Presentiments 219 

mainder of his force, being besieged at Kan- 
dahar." 1 

Most people are familiar with the story told 
by President Lincoln to a friend, — told too, in 
his own half-playful, half-pathetic way, as if to 
minimize the effect upon that friend's mind. 
It is given in the words of that friend : — 

"It was just after my election in i860, when 
the news had been coming in thick and fast all 
day and there had been a great ' hurrah, boys,' 
so that I was well tired out and went home to 
rest, throwing myself down on a lounge in my 
chamber. Opposite where I lay was a bureau 
with a swinging glass upon it (and here he got 
up and placed furniture to illustrate the posi- 
tion), and looking in that glass I saw myself 
reflected nearly at full length ; but my face, I 
noticed, had two separate and distinct images, 
the tip of the nose of one being about three 
inches from the tip of the other. I was a little 
bothered, perhaps startled, and got up and 
looked in the glass, but the illusion vanished. 

1 " Forty-one Years in India." 

220 Myths and Fables 

On lying down again, I saw it a second time, 
plainer if possible, than before ; and then I 
noticed that one of the faces was a little paler 

— say, five shades — than the other. I got up, 
and the thing melted away; and I went off, and 
in the excitement of the hour forgot all about it 

— nearly, but not quite, for the thing would 
once in a while come up and give me a little 
pang, as if something uncomfortable had hap- 
pened. When I went home again that night, I 
told my wife about it, and a few days afterward 
I made the experiment again, when (with a 
laugh), sure enough ! the thing came again ; but 
I never succeeded in bringing the ghost back 
after that, though I once tried very industriously 
to show it to my wife, who was somewhat wor- 
ried about it. She thought it was a ' sign ' that 
I was to be elected to a second term of office, 
and that the paleness of one of the faces was an 
omen that I should not see life through the last 

These are by no means isolated cases. It is 
said that General Hancock, who had faced the 

Of Presentiments 221 

King of Terrors on too many battle-fields to fear 
him, was pursued by a presentiment of this sort, 
only too soon to be fully verified. While present 
as an honored guest at a dinner, surrounded by 
his old comrades in arms, the general remarked 
to a friend that he had come there with a premo- 
nition that it would be his last visit, and that he 
had but a short time longer to live. In fact, his 
lamented death occurred within a short time after. 

Instances of fatal presentiments before going 
into battle are familiar to every veteran of our 
great Civil War. I have heard many of them 
feelingly rehearsed by eye-witnesses. The same 
thing has occurred, under precisely similar con- 
ditions, during the late war with Spain. But 
here is a tale of that earlier conflict, as pub- 
lished broadcast to the world, without question 
or qualification : — 

" In a research for facts bearing upon psy- 
chology, Mrs. Bancroft (a daughter-in-law of 
the historian) has brought to light a strange 
story relating to either the record of odd ' spirit 
communications ' or coincidences. On July 2, 

222 Myths and Fables 

1863, the wives of Major Thomas Y. Brent and 
Captain Eugene Barnes, two Confederate offi- 
cers, were together at a wedding in Fayette 
County, each wearing her bridal dress. While 
dressing for the occasion Mrs. Brent's compan- 
ion discovered a blood spot upon the dress of 
the major's wife, which could not be accounted 
for, and somewhat excitedly exclaimed, ' It is a 
bad omen ! ' Two days after Mrs. Brent experi- 
enced a severe pain in the region of her heart, 
although at the time in the best of health. This 
occurred at the birthplace of her husband. Two 
days later she heard that, while storming a 
Federal fortification, her husband was killed on 
July 4, 1863, as far as she could learn, at the 
identical time that she had experienced the 
heart pain. The major was shot in the breast 
by a Minie ball and instantly killed." 

There lies before me, as I write, the authori- 
tative statement of an army officer, a survivor 
of the terrible charge up San Juan Hill, before 
Santiago de Cuba, to the effect that just before 
advancing to the charge a brother officer had 

Of Presentiments 223 

confided to him a conviction that the speaker 
would be killed, entreating his friend to receive 
his last messages for his relatives. In this 
case, too, the fatal premonition was fully veri- 
fied. The doomed man was shot while bravely 
storming the Spanish stronghold. 

Still another story of this war has been widely 
published, so lately as this chapter was begun. 
It has reference to the death of the bandmaster 
of the United States ship Lancaster, then cruis- 
ing in the South Atlantic. Upon learning that 
the Lancaster was to touch at Rio de Janeiro 
the bandmaster requested his discharge, giving 
as his reason that he had for years been under 
the presentiment that if he went to that port he 
would die of yellow fever. A discharge was 
refused him. The ship entered the harbor of 
Rio, and the bandmaster immediately took to 
his bed with all the symptoms of yellow fever. 
The identity of the malady soon established 
itself. He was taken to the plague hospital on 
shore and there died. One of the bandsmen 
who kissed him as he was being removed from 

224 Myths and Fables 

the ship also died. The account goes on to say 
that "these two are the only cases reported at 
Rio for months. The fever has not spread, 
and no man besides the unfortunate bandsman 
caught the fever, the health of the ship's crew 
remaining excellent." 

The number of persons who have testified 
to having seen the apparitions or death wraiths 
of dying or deceased friends is already large, 
as the records of various societies for psychical 
research bear witness. These phenomena are 
not in their nature forewarnings of something 
that is about to happen, but announcements of 
something that already has happened. They 
therefore can have no relation to what was 
formerly known as " second sight." 

In spite of all that our much-boasted civiliza- 
tion has done in the way of freeing poor, falli- 
ble man from the thraldom of superstition, 
there is indubitable evidence that a great many 
people still put faith in direct revelations from 
the land of spirits. In the course of a quiet 
chat one evening, where the subject was under 

Of Presentiments 225 

discussion, one of the company who had lis- 
tened attentively, though silently all the while, 
to all manner of theories, spiced with ridicule, 
abruptly asked how we would account for the 
following incident which he went on to relate, 
and I have here set down word for word : — 

"My grandparents," he began, "had a son 
whom they thought all the world of. From all 
accounts I guess Tom was about one of the like- 
liest young fellows that could be scared up in a 
day's journey. Everybody said Tom was bound 
to make his mark in the world, and at the time 
I speak of he seemed in a fair way of doing it, 
too, for at one and twenty he was first mate of 
the old Argonaut which had just sailed for Cal- 
cutta. This would make her tenth voyage. 
Well, as I am telling you, the very day after 
the Argonaut went to sea, a tremendous gale 
set in from the eastward. It blew great guns. 
Actually, now, it seemed as if that gale would 
never stop blowing. 

" As day after day went by, and the storm 
raged on without intermission, you may judge 

226 Myths and Fables 

if the hearts of those who had friends at sea 
in that ship did not sink down and down with 
the passing hours. Of course, the old folks 
could think of nothing else. 

" Let me see ; it was a good bit ago. Ah, 
yes ; it was on the third or fourth night of 
the gale, I don't rightly remember which, and 
it don't matter much, that grandfather and 
grandmother were sitting together, as usual, 
in the old family sitting-room, he poring over 
the family Bible as he was wont to do in such 
cases, she knitting and rocking, or pretending 
to knit, but both full of the one ever present 
thought, which each was trying so hard to 
hide from the other. 

" Dismally splashed the raindrops against 
the window-panes, mournfully the wind whined 
in the chimney-top, while every now and then 
the fire would spit and sputter angrily on the 
hearth, or flare up fitfully when some big 
gust came roaring down the chimney to fan 
the embers into a fiercer flame. Then there 
would be a lull, during which, like an echo of 

Of Presentiments 227 

the tempest, the dull and distant booming of 
the sea was borne to the affrighted listener's 
ears. But nothing I could say would begin 
to give you an idea of the great gale of 181 7. 

"Well, the old folks sat there as stiff as two 
statues, listening to every sound. When a big 
gust tore over the house and shook it till it 
rocked again, gran'ther would steal a look 
at grandmother over his specs, but say never a 
word. The old lady would give a start, let her 
hands fall idly upon her lap, sit for a moment 
as if dazed, and then go on with her knitting 
again as if her very life depended on it. 

" Unable at length to control her feelings, 
grandmother got up out of her chair, with her 
work in her hand, went to the window, put 
aside the curtain, and looked out. I say 
looked out, for of course all was so pitch- 
dark outside that nothing could be seen, yet 
there she stood with her white face pressed 
close to the wet panes, peering out into the 
night, as if questioning the storm itself of the 
absent one. 

228 Myths and Fables 

" All at once she drew back from the win- 
dow with a low cry, saying in a broken voice : 
1 My God, father, it's Tom in his coffin ! 
They're bringing him up here, to the house.' 
Then she covered her face with her hands, 
to shut out the horrid sight. 

'"Set down 'Mandy!' sternly commanded 
the startled old man. ' Don't be making a 
fool of yourself. Don't ye know tain't no 
sech a thing what you're sayin' ? Set down, 
I say, this minnit ! ' 

" But no one could ever convince grand- 
mother that she had not actually seen, with 
her own eyes, her dear boy Tom, the idol of 
her heart, lying cold in death. To her indeed 
it was a revelation from the tomb, for the 
ship in which Tom had sailed was never 
heard from." 


" One point must still be greatly dark, 
The reason why they do it." 

TT is a matter of common knowledge that 
-■- certain expert "finders," as they are called, 
use a divining-rod for detecting underground 
springs in New England ; in Pennsylvania for 
the locating of oil springs ; and in the mineral 
regions of the Rockies for the discovery of 
hidden veins of valuable ores. The Cornish 
miners, also, have long made use of the divin- 
ing-rod, or "dowsing-rod," as they call it, for 
a like purpose. A further research, probably, 
might reveal a similar practice in other coun- 
tries ; but for our purpose it is enough to pre- 


230 Myths and Fables 

sent two of the most intelligent in the world as 
giving it their sanction and support. 

Various implements are employed by the 
expert operator in his quest for what lies hid- 
den from mortal eyes ; but the preferred agent 
is usually a bough of witch-hazel, branching at 
one end like the tines of a pitchfork. 1 Taking 
firm hold of each prong, with the palms of the 
hands turned upward, the operator slowly walks 
around the locality where it is desired to find 
water ; and when he reaches the right spot, 
presto! the free end of the bough is bent down- 
ward toward the ground as if by some invisible 
force, sometimes so strongly that the operator 
is unable to overcome it by putting forth his 
whole strength. "Dig here," he says, with 
positive assurance that water will be found 
not far below the surface of the ground. 

On the face of it, this performance comes 
rather nearer to our idea of a miracle than any- 
thing we can now call to mind. Certainly, 
Moses did no more when he smote the rock of 

1 An apple bough also is made use of in some cases. 

The Divining-rod 231 

Scripture. Very possibly, former generations 
of men may have associated the act with the 
operation of sorcery or magic. An enlightened 
age, however, accepts neither of these theories. 
We do not believe in miracles other than those 
recorded in Scripture ; and we have renounced 
magic and sorcery as too antiquated for intel- 
ligent people to consider. Yet things are done 
every day which would have passed for miracles 
with our forefathers, without our knowing more 
than the bare fact that, by means of certain 
crude agents, obtained from the earth itself, 
messages are sent from New York to London 
under the Atlantic Ocean in a few minutes ; 
that the most remote parts of the habitable 
globe have been brought into practically instan- 
taneous communication, the one with the other ; 
and that public and private conveyances are 
moving about our thoroughfares without the 
use of horses or steam. All these things 
looked to us like miracles, at first, yet custom 
has brought us to regard them with no more 
wonder than did the lighting of the first gas 

232 Myths and Fables 

lamp the pedestrian of forty odd years ago. 
Much as we know, there is probably yet much 
more that we do not know. 

The methods employed in finding oil springs 
or " leads " of ore are very similar to those 
made use of in discovering water. It is a fact 
that some of the most productive wells in the 
oil regions were located in this manner. It is 
a further fact, that from time to time, search 
for buried treasure has been' carried on in pre- 
cisely the same way. Now some astute critics 
have said that the divining-rod was a. humbug, 
because when they have tried it the mystic 
bough would not bend for them. It is, how- 
ever, doubtful if any humbug could have stood 
the test of so many years without exposure, or 
what so many witnesses stand ready to affirm 
the truth of be cavalierly thrust aside as a pal- 
pable imposture. 

Although I have never seen the operator at 
work, myself, I have often talked with those 
who have, whose testimony was both direct 
and explicit. Moreover, I do know of persons 

The Divining-rod 233 

who continue to ply this trade (for no more 
than this is claimed for it) in some parts of 
New England to-day. Whether it should be 
classed among superstitions may be an open 
question after all. 



"The hag is astride 
This night for a ride — 
The devil and she together." — Herrick. 

A LL abnormal exhibitions of nature, or in 
*■*- fact any departure from the regular 
order of things, such as great and unusual 
storms, earthquakes, eclipses of the sun or 
moon, the appearance of a comet in the 
heavens, or of a plague of flies, caterpillars, 
or locusts were once held to be so many infal- 
lible signs of impending calamity. All of our 
early historians give full and entire credit to 
the evil import of these startling phenomena, 
which were invariably referred to the wrath 


Wonders of Physical Universe 235 

of an offended deity, only to be appeased by 
a special season of fasting and prayer. Of 
course ample warrant exists for such belief in 
the Bible, which was something no man dared 
question or gainsay in those primitive days. 
For example, in his history of Philip's War, 
Increase Mather lays down this, to our age, 
startling proposition. " It is," says the learned 
divine, "a common observation, verified by the 
experience of many ages, that great and pub- 
lick calamitycs seldome come upon any place 
without prodigious zvarnings to forerun and 
signify zvliat is to be expected." He had just 
noted the appearance "in the aire," at Ply- 
mouth, of something shaped in the perfect 
form of an Indian bow, which some of the 
terror-stricken people looked upon as a 
" prodigious apparition." The learned divine 
cleverly, interpreted it as a favorable omen, 
however, portending that the Lord would 
presently "break the bow and spear asunder," 
thus calming their fears. 

This extract taken at random, fairly estab- 

236 Myths and Fables 

lishes the survival of certain forms of super- 
stition in the second generation of colonists. 
The first, as has been said already, brought 
all of its old superstitions with it. In short, 
every form of belief in the supernatural, for 
which the fathers of New England have been 
so roundly abused or ridiculed, may be dis- 
tinctly traced back to the old country. 

Very much of the belief in the baleful 
influence of so-called prodigies, with the pos- 
sible exception of that ascribed to comets, 
or "blazing stars," as they were called, has 
fortunately subsided in a measure, for we 
shudder to think of a state of things so 
thoroughly calculated to keep society continu- 
ally on the rack. But in those earlier times 
life and death had about equal terrors. Sin 
and sinners were punished both here and 
hereafter; and, really, if we may credit such 
writers as the Rev. William Hubbard and 
the Mather family, poor New England was 
quite ripe, in their time, for the fate of Sodom 
and Gomorrah. 

Wonders of Physical Universe 237 

As regards comets, we risk little in saying 
that a great many very sensible people still 
view their periodical appearance with fear 
and trembling, and their departure with a 
feeling of unfeigned relief. It is our unwill- 
ing tribute to the unfathomable and the un- 
known. And, disguise it as we may, we 
breathe more freely when the dread visitant 
has faded from our sight. In the language 
of Macbeth after seeing Banquo's ghost, — 
" Why, so : being gone, I am a man again. 1 ' 

In truth, we know comets as yet only as the 

accredited agents of destruction. It seems a 

natural question to ask, If order is nature's 

first law, why are all these departures from 

it ? Can they be without fixed end, aim, or 

purpose ? Why should the solid earth quake, 

the sea overwhelm the land, mountains vomit 

forth flames, the tempest scatter death and 

destruction abroad, the heavens suspend a 

winged and flaming monster over us, — 

" So horribly to shake our disposition, 
With thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls " ? 

238 Myths and Fables 

There was still another form of belief, differ- 
ing from the first in ascribing supernatural 
functions to great natural phenomena. In this 
sense, the storm did not descend in the majesty 
of its mighty wrath to punish man's wicked- 
ness, but, like the roar of artillery which 
announces the death of the monarch to his 
mourning people, was coincident, in its com- 
ing, with the death of some great personage, 
which it proclaimed with salvos of Olympus. 
Indeed, poets and philosophers of keen in- 
sight have frequently recognized this sort of 
curious sympathy in nature with most momen- 
tous movements in human life. We are told 
that the dying hours of Cromwell and Napo- 
leon were signalized by storms of terrific vio- 
lence, and Shakespeare describes the earth 
and air as filled with omens before the murders 
of Julius Caesar and of King Duncan. 

"As busy as the devil in a gale of wind," 
emphasizes by a robust, sea-seasoned saying 
the notion current among sailors of how storms 

Wonders of Physical Universe 239 

It was just now said that the belief in 
direct manifestations of the divine wrath, 
through the medium of such calamitous visita- 
tions as great droughts, earthquakes, eclipses, 
tidal waves, fatal epidemics, and the like, had, 
in a measure, subsided. The statement should 
be made, however, with certain qualification ; 
for it is well remembered that during a season 
of unexampled drought, in the far West, the 
people were called together in their churches, 
and on a week-day, too, to pray for rain, just 
as we are told that the Pilgrim Fathers did, 
on a like occasion, two hundred and fifty odd 
years before. Prayers were kept up without 
intermission during the day. And it is a further 
coincidence that copious showers did set in 
within twenty-four hours or so. Even the 
most sceptical took refuge in silence. 

From many different sources we have very 
detailed accounts of the remarkable dark day 
of May 19, 1780, with the great fear that phe- 
nomenon inspired in those who witnessed it, 
the general belief being that the Day of Judg- 

240 Myths and Fables 

ment was at hand. 1 In the presence of this 
overshadowing terror, few retained their usual 
presence of mind unshaken. One such instance 
is worth repeating here, if only for its rarity. 
At that time the Connecticut legislature was 
in session. The House of Representatives 
immediately adjourned. A like motion was 
before the Council. The protest of Colonel 
Davenport has become historical. Said he, 
"The Day of Judgment is either approaching 
or it is not. If it is, I choose to be found 
doing my duty. I wish, therefore, that candles 
may be lighted." 

Nearly fifty years later (September, 1825), 
a similar visitation, due to extensive forest 
fires in New Brunswick, again created wide- 
spread alarm, hardly quieted by the later knowl- 
edge of the atmospheric conditions (an under 
stratum of fog and an upper stratum of smoke) 
that were so plainly responsible for it. On 

1 According to the prophecy in Joel ii, 10, and Matthew 
xxiv, 29, then" shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not 
give her light." 

Wonders of Physical Universe 241 

the contrary, from what we have been able 
to gather on the subject, it appears that where 
the phenomenon was visible, people were quite 
as ill at ease as their fathers were. 

Once again, under almost identical condi- 
tions, the same phenomenon wrought exactly 
the same chaos in the minds of a very large 
number of people in New England and New 
York. This has passed into history as the 
Yellow Tuesday (September 6, 1881). On 
this occasion the brooding darkness lasted all 
day. It was noticed that a fire built in the 
open air burned with a spectral blue flame. 
Blue flowers were changed to a crimson hue. 
By two in the afternoon one could not see to 
read without a light. At a certain hotel in 
the White Mountains some of the servants 
were so frightened that they refused to go to 
work, and fell to praying instead. 

These examples at least afford data for a 
comparison of some little interest, as to how 
any wide departure from nature's fixed laws 
has affected the human mind at widely sepa- 

242 Myths and Fables 

rated periods of time, all the theories or 
demonstrations of science to the contrary 

So much for the effects of what is a reality 
to be seen and felt by all men. But now and 
again the mere haphazard predictions of some 
self-constituted prophet of evil, if plausibly pre- 
sented and steadily insisted upon, find a multi- 
tude of credulous believers among us. It is 
only a few years since a certain religious sect, 
notwithstanding repeated failures in the past, 
with much consequent ridicule, again ventured 
to fix a day for the second coming of Our 
Lord. Similarly it falls within the recollection 
of most of us how a certain self-constituted 
Canadian seer solemnly predicted the com- 
ing of a monster tidal wave, which in its 
disastrous effects was to be another Deluge. 
All the great Atlantic seaboard was to be 
buried in the rush of mighty waters ; all its 
great maritime cities swept away in a moment. 
Fresher still in the recollection is the predic- 
tion that the end of the world would surely 

Wonders of Physical Universe 243 

come as the inevitable result of the shower 
of meteors of November, 1899. 

It is a fact that many good and worthy but, 
alas ! too credulous people living along the New 
England coast, who believed themselves in dan- 
ger from the destroying tidal wave, were thrown 
into a state of unspeakable agitation and alarm 
by this wicked prediction. Yet there was abso- 
lutely nothing to warrant it except the unsup- 
ported declaration of this one man, whom no 
one knew, and few had ever heard of. Yet 
some really believed, more half believed, and 
some who openly ridiculed the prediction 
apparently did so more to keep their courage 
up than from actual unbelief. So easy it is to 
arouse the fears of a community, who usually 
act first and reason afterward. I heard of one 
man who actually packed all his household 
goods in a wagon, so as to be ready to start off 
for higher ground upon the first signal of the 
approach of this much-dreaded rush of waters. 



"Songe est toujour* mensonge" says a French 
proverb ; " Dreams go by contraries," says the 
English proverb, — that is, if you dream of 
the dead you will hear from the living. Who 
shall decide, where the collective wisdom of 
centuries is at such wide variance ? 

To put faith in the supposed revelations of a 
disordered or overheated brain seems, on the 
face of it, sheer absurdity, especially when we 
ourselves may induce dreaming merely by over- 
indulgence in eating or drinking. Yet there 
are people who habitually dream when the 

brain is in its normal condition. 


This brings 

"Ships that Pass in the Night" 245 

the question down to its simplest form, "What 
is a dream ? " And there we halt. 

That there is no end of theories concerning 
the measure of credit that should be given to 
dreams is readily accounted for. What nobody 
can explain every one is at liberty to have his 
own peculiar notions of. Perhaps the most 
curious thing about it is the proven fact that so 
many different people should dream precisely 
the same thing from time to time ; so making 
it possible not only to classify and analyze 
dreams, but even to lay down certain interpreta- 
tions, to be accepted by a multitude of believers. 
Of course it is easy to laugh at the incoherent 
fancies that flit through the debatable region 
we inhabit while asleep, but it is not so easy to 
explain why we laugh, or why we should dream 
of persons or events long since passed from our 
memories, or of other persons or events wholly 
unknown to us, either in the past or the present. 

Without a doubt people dream just as much 
nowadays as they ever did. That fact being 
admitted, the problem for us to consider is, 

246 Myths and Fables 

whether the belief in the prophetic character 
of dreams, held by so many peoples for so many 
centuries, having the unequivocal sanction, too, 
of Scripture authority, is really dying out, or 
continues to hold its old dominion over the 
minds of poor, fallible mankind. In order to 
determine this vexed question inquiry was made 
of several leading booksellers with the following 
result: Thirty or forty years ago dream books 
were as much a recognized feature of the book- 
selling trade as any other sort of literary prop- 
erty ; consequently, they were openly exposed 
for sale -in every bookstore, large or small. It 
now appears that these yellow-covered oracles 
of fate are still in good demand, mostly by ser- 
vant girls and factory girls, and, though seldom 
found in the best bookstores, may be readily 
had of most dealers in cheap periodicals. This, 
certainly, would seem to be a gain in the direc- 
tion of education, though not of the masses. It 
also appears that, as in the matter of "signs," 
the female sex is more susceptible to this sort 
of superstition than is the male ; but that by no 

"Ships that Pass in the Night" 247 

means proves the sterner sex to be wholly free 
from it. 

Some persons dream a great deal, others but 
seldom. Let one who is not much addicted to 
the habit have a bad dream, a frightful dream, 
and be he never so well poised, the phantasm 
can hardly fail of leaving a disquieting, perhaps 
a lasting, effect. Seldom, indeed, can that per- 
son shake off the feeling that the dream for- 
bodes something of a sinister nature. In vain 
he racks his brain for some interpretation that 
may set his mind at rest, wholly forgetful of 
the trite adage that dreams go by contraries. 

So often, indeed, do we hear the pregnant 
declaration, to wit : " Your old men shall dream 
dreams, your young men see visions," that we 
have adopted it as a striking rhetorical figure 
of wide application. In Hamlet's celebrated 
soliloquy upon the immortality of the soul, the 
melancholy Dane confesses to an overmaster- 
ing fear of bad dreams. And once again, as if 
wrung from the very anguish of his sinful 
heart, Gloster cries out : " Oh, Catesby, I have 

248 Myths and Fables 

had such horrid dreams ! " And Catesby ex- 
postulates, " Shadows, my lord, below the 
soldiers seeming." But Gloster thrusts aside 
the rebuke as he impetuously exclaims : " Now 
by my this day's hopes, shadows to-night have 
struck more terror to the soul of Richard, than 
can the substance of ten thousand soldiers 
arm'd all in proof." 

We find that our own immediate ancestors 
were fully as credulous in regard to the impor- 
tance of dreams, as affecting their lives and 
fortunes, as the ancients appear to have been. 
But with them it is true that Scripture war- 
rant was accepted as all-sufficient. Just a few 
examples will suffice. 

In the time of its disintegration, owing to the 
removal of some of its members to Connecti- 
cut, the church of Dorchester, Massachusetts, 
"did not reorganize on account of certain 
dreams and visions among the congregation." 

Under a certain date, Samuel Sewall sets 
down the fact that he has had disturbing 
dreams, which he, according to his wont, 

" Ships that Pass in the Night " 249 

anxiously strives to interpret — he, of all men ! 
— a magistrate, a councillor, and a ruler in the 
land. One dream was to the effect "that all 
my [his] children were dead except Sarah, 
which did distress me sorely with reflections on 
my omissions of duty towards them as well as 
breaking of the hopes I had of them." 

Shifting now the scene to half a century 
later, we find in the " Diary and Letters of 
Sarah Pierpont," wife of the celebrated theolo- 
gian, Jonathan Edwards, this letter, describing 
a singularly prophetic dream relative to her 
grandson, then an infant, Aaron Burr : — 

" Stockbridge, May 10, 1756. 

" Dear Brother James : Your letters always 
do us good, and your last was one of your best. 
Have you heard of the birth of Esther's second 
child, at Newark ? It was born the sixth of 
February last, and its parents have named him 
Aaron Burr, Jr., after his father, the worthy 
President of the College. I trust the little im- 
mortal will grow up to be a good and useful 

250 Myths and Fables 

man. But, somehow, a strange presentiment of 
evil has hung over my mind of late, and I can 
hardly rid myself of the impression that that 
child was born to see trouble. 

" You know I don't believe in dreams and 
visions ; but lately I had a sad night of broken 
sleep, in which the future career of that boy 
seemed to pass before me. He first appeared 
as a little child, just beginning to ascend a high 
hill. Not long after he set out, the two guides 
who started with him disappeared one after the 
other. He went on alone, and as the road was 
open and plain, and as friends met him at every 
turn, he got along very well. At times he took 
on the air and bearing of a soldier, and then 
of a statesman, assuming to lead and control 
others. As he neared the top of the hill, the 
way grew more steep and difficult, and his 
companions became alienated from him, refus- 
ing to help him or be led by him. Baffled in 
his designs, and angered at his ill-success, he 
began to lay about him with violence, leading 
some astray, and pulling down others at every 

"Ships that Pass in the Night" 251 

attempt to rise. Soon he himself began to slip 

and slide down the rough and perilous sides of 

the hill ; now regaining his foothold for a little, 

then losing it again, until at length he stumbled 

and fell headlong down, down, into a black and 

yawning gulf at the base ! 

"At this, I woke in distress, and was glad 

enough to find it was only a dream. Now, you 

may make as much or as little of this as you 

please. I think the disturbed state of our 

country, along with my own indifferent health, 

must have occasioned it. A letter from his 

mother, to-day, assures me that her little Aaron 

is a lively, prattlesome fellow, filling his parents' 

hearts with joy. 

" Your loving sister, 

" Sarah." 

Though "only a dream," this vision of the 
night prefigured a sad reality, for within two 
years both of the " guides " had gone, President 
Burr in September, 1757, his wife in the same 
month of the next year, 1758. 

Passing now down to our own day, the Rev. 

252 Myths and Fables 

Walter Colton, sometime alcalde of Monterey, 
tells us, in his reminiscences of the gold excite- 
ment of 1849, that he dreamed of finding gold 
at a certain spot, had faith enough in his 
dream to seek for it in that place, and was 
rewarded by finding it there. 

A mass of similar testimony might be 
adduced. One piece coming from a brave 
soldier, who will not be accused of harboring 
womanish fears, will bear repeating here. We 
again quote from that most interesting volume, 
"Forty-one Years in India." Lord Roberts, its 
author, is speaking of his father, then a man 
close upon seventy. 

" Shortly before his departure an incident 
occurred which I will relate for the benefit of 
psychological students ; they may perhaps be 
able to explain it, I never could. My father 
had some time before issued invitations for a 
dance which was to take place in two days' time, 
— on Monday, the 17th October, 1853. On the 
Saturday morning he appeared disturbed and 
unhappy, and during breakfast was despondent 

"Ships that Pass in the Night" 253 

— very different from his usual bright and 
cheery self. On my questioning him as to 
the cause, he told me he had had an unpleas- 
ant dream — one which he had dreamt several 
times before, and which had always been 
followed by the death of a near relation. As 
the day advanced, in spite of my efforts to 
cheer him, he became more and more depressed, 
and even said he should like to put off the 
dance. I dissuaded him from taking this step 
for the time being ; but that night he had the 
same dream again, and the next morning he 
insisted on the dance being postponed. It 
seemed rather absurd to disappoint our friends 
on account of a dream ; there was, however, 
nothing for it but to carry out my father's wishes, 
and intimation was accordingly sent to the 
invited guests. The following morning the post 
brought news of the sudden death of a half-sister 
at Lahore, with whom I had stayed on my way 
to Pashawar." 

A man is now living who ran away from the 
vessel in which he had shipped as a sailor be- 

254 Myths and Fables 

fore the mast, in consequence of dreaming for 
three nights in succession that the vessel would 
be lost. All the circumstances were related 
to me, with much minuteness of detail, by per- 
sons quite familiar with them at the time of 
their occurrence. The vessel was, in fact, cast 
away, and every one on board drowned, on the 
very night after she sailed ; consequently the 
warning dream, by means of which the de- 
serter's life was saved, could hardly fail of 
leaving a deep and lasting impression upon the 
minds of all who knew the facts. The story 
has been told more at length elsewhere by the 
writer, 1 as it came from the lips of a seafaring 
friend ; and the hero of it is still pointed out to 
sceptics as a living example of the fact that — 
* Coming events cast their shadows before.'' 1 
Richard Mansfield, distinguished actor and 
playwright, has recently related in an inter- 
view a most interesting incident in his own 
career, which he declared himself wholly un- 
able to account for. So much more credit 

1 In "Nooks and Corners of the New England Coast." 

"Ships that Pass in the Night" 255 

attaches to the testimony of persons if known 
to the public even by name, that Mr. Mans- 
field's experience has special value here. It is 
also a highly interesting fragment of autobi- 

Mr. Mansfield goes on to say that after lead- 
ing a most precarious existence, in various ways, 
his discharge from Mr. D'Oyley Carte's com- 
pany brought on a crisis in his affairs. Reach- 
ing his poor lodgings in London, he soon fell 
into desperate straits, being soon forced to 
pawn what little he had for the means to keep 
body and soul together. He declares that he 
did not know which way to turn, and that the 
most gloomy forebodings overwhelmed him. 
We will now let him tell his own story in his 
own way : — 

" This was the condition of affairs when the 
strange happening to which I have referred 
befell me. Retiring for the night in a per- 
fectly hopeless frame of mind, I fell into a 
troubled sleep and dreamed dreams. Finally, 
toward morning, this apparent fantasy came to 

256 Myths and Fables 

me. I seemed in my disturbed sleep to hear a 
cab drive up to the door as if in a great hurry. 
There was a knock, and in my dream I opened 
the door and found D'Oyley Carte's yellow- 
haired secretary standing outside. He ex- 
claimed : — 

" ' Can you pack up and catch the train in 
ten minutes to rejoin the company ? ' 

" ' I can,' was the dreamland reply ; there 
seemed to be a rushing about while I swept 
a few things into my bag ; then the cab door 
was slammed, and we were off to the station. 

"This was all a dream," continued Mr. 
Mansfield; "but here is the inexplicable de- 
nouement. The dream was so vivid and star- 
tling that I immediately awoke with a strange, 
uncanny sensation, and sprang to my feet. It 
was six o'clock, and only bare and gloomy sur- 
roundings met my eye. On a chair rested my 
travelling bag, and through some impulse which 
I could not explain at the time and cannot 
account for now I picked it up and hurriedly 
swept into it the few articles that had escaped 

" Ships that Pass in the Night" 257 

the pawnshop. It did not take me long to com- 
plete my toilet, and then I sat down to think. 

" Presently, when I had reached the extreme 
point of dejection, a cab rattled up, there was 
a knock, and I opened the door. There stood 
D'Oyley Carte's secretary, just as I saw him in 
my dreams. He seemed to be in a great flurry, 
and cried out : — 

" ' Can you pack up and reach the station in 
ten minutes to rejoin the company ? ' 

" ' I can,' said I, calmly, pointing to my bag. 
' It is all ready, for I was expecting you.' 

" The man was a little startled by this seem- 
ingly strange remark, but bundled me into the 
cab without further ado, and we hurried away 
to the station exactly in accord with my dream. 
That was the beginning of a long engagement, 
and, although I have known hard times since, 
it was the turning-point in my career. I have 
already said that I have no theories whatever 
in regard to the matter. I do not account for 
it. It is enough for me to know that I dreamed 
certain things which were presently realized in 

258 Myths and Fables 

the exact order of the dream. Having no 
superstitions, it is impossible to philosophize 
over the occurrence. All I know is that every- 
thing happened just as I have stated it." 

Some of the hidden meanings attributed to 
dreams are elsewhere referred to. As the 
subject has a literature of its own, we need 
mention only a few of the more commonly ac- 
cepted interpretations. Their name is legion. 

To dream of a white horse is a certain pre- 
sage of a death in the family. 

To dream of a funeral is a sign that you 
will soon attend a wedding. 

To dream of losing one's teeth is ominous 
of some coming sorrow. 

To dream of a snake is a token that you 
have an enemy. 

Touching a dead body will prevent dream- 
ing of it. 

The same dream, occurring three nights in 
succession, will surely come to pass. 

A slice of wedding-cake put under the pillow 
will cause an unmarried woman to dream of her 
future husband. 



" I asked her of the way, which she informed me; 
Then craved my charity, and bade me hasten 
To save a sister." — Otway. 

/^""VNE noticeable thing about certain forms 
^•^ of superstition is their general accept- 
ance by the public at large, like certain moral 
evils, which it is felt to be an almost hopeless 
task to do away with. Other good, easy souls 
choose to ignore the presence of fortune-tellers, 


260 Myths and Fables 

astrologers, palmists among their daily haunts. 
As a matter of fact, however, fortune-telling, 
astrology, and palmistry have become so fully 
incorporated with the everyday life of all large 
communities as to excite very little comment 
from the common run of us. 

It certainly would astonish some people if 
they knew to what an extent these methods of 
hoodwinking the credulous, or weak-minded, 
continue to flourish in our large cities, without 
the least attempt at concealment or disguise. 
One need only look about him to see the signs 
of these shrewd charlatans everywhere staring 
him in the face, or run his eye over the columns 
of the daily papers to be convinced how far 
superstition still lives and thrives in the chosen 
strongholds of modern thought and modern 
scepticism. At fairs and social gatherings for- 
tune-telling and palmistry have come to be 
recognized features, either as a means of rais- 
ing funds for some highly deserving object, of 
course, or for the sake of the amusement they 
afford, at the expense of those well-meaning 

Fortune-telling, Astrology, etc. 261 

souls who do not know how to say no. To be 
sure, it has come to be thoroughly understood 
that no benevolent object whatsoever has a 
chance of succeeding nowadays without some 
sort of nickel-in-the-slot attachment, by which 
the delusion of getting something for your 
money is so clumsily kept up. 

At fairs, for instance, it is not necessary that 
the oracle of fortune should speak. Time is 
saved and modern progress illustrated and 
enforced by having printed cards ready at hand 
to be impartially distributed to all applicants on 
the principle of first come, first served. As the 
victim receives his card, he laughs nervously, 
fidgets around a few minutes, goes aside into 
some quiet corner and furtively reads, " For- 
tune will be more favorable to you in future 
than it has been." 

Unwittingly, perhaps, yet none the less, has 
he paid his tribute to superstition, thus thriftily 
turned to account. 

The penny-in-the-slot machines, so often seen 
in public places, tell fortunes with mechanical 

262 Myths and Fables 

precision, and in the main, impartially, evident 
care being taken not to render the oracle un- 
popular by giving out disagreeable or alarming 
predictions. True, they are just a trifle ambigu- 
ous, but docs not that feature exactly corre- 
spond with the traditional idea of the ancient 
oracle, which was nothing if not ambiguous? 
Here is a sample, " You will not become very 
rich, but be assured you will never want for 

Fortune-telling also is openly carried on at 
all popular summer resorts, with considerable 
profit to the dealer in prophecies, who is gener- 
ally an Indian woman. She is much con- 
sulted by young women, "just for the fun of 
the thing." Roving bands of gypsies continue 
to do a more or less thriving business in the 
country towns. Character is unfolded or the 
future foretold by the color of the eyes, 
the length or breadth of the finger nails or of 
the eyebrows. 

Telling fortunes by means of tea grounds is 
often practised at social gatherings. 

Fortune-telling, Astrology, etc. 263 

"For still, by some invisible tether 
Scandal and tea are linked together." 

It is done in this way : When drinking off 
the tea, the grounds are made to adhere to 
the sides of the tea-cup, by swiftly twirling it 
round and round. The cup is then inverted, 
turned thrice and no more, after which the 
spell is completed, and the mistress of the 
revels proceeds to tell the fortunes of those 
present, with neatness and despatch. 

Time has worked certain marked changes 
in the method of practising this equivocal 
trade. The modern fortune-teller no longer 
inhabits a grewsome cavern, reached by a 
winding path among overhanging rocks, and 
choked with dank weeds, or goes about mut- 
tering to herself in an unknown tongue, or is 
clothed in rags. Far from it. She either 
occupies luxurious apartments in the best busi- 
ness section, or in a genteel up-town hotel, 
or dwells in a fashionable quarter of the town, 
and dresses a la mode. Nor are her clients by 
any means exclusively drawn from among the 

264 Myths and Fables 

lowly and ignorant, as might be supposed, but 
more often come from the middle class of 
society; and, though consultations are had in 
a private manner, those who ply this trade do 
so without fear or disguise. 

Of the thousand and one matters submitted 
to the dictum of fortune-tellers, those relating 
to love affairs or money matters are by much 
the most numerous. On this head just a few 
selections, taken at hazard from the advertising 
columns of a morning newspaper, perhaps will 
afford the best idea of the nature of the ques- 
tions most commonly addressed to these dis- 
posers and dispensers of fate. One reads, 
" Mrs Blank : consult her on all business, 
domestic or love affairs. Unites separated 
parties." A shrewd offer that! The next, 
.who styles himself "Doctor" is an astrologer. 
He invites you to send him your sex, with 
date and hour of birth ; or a full description. 
All matters, he naively declares, are alike to 
him. For the trifling matter of one dollar he 
promises "a full reading" — presumably of 

Fortune-telling, Astrology, etc. 265 

your horoscope. The next, a trance and 
business medium, professes to be able to tell 
the " name of future husband or wife, and all 
affairs of life." Still another, after setting 
forth her own abilities in glowing colors, warns 
a trusting public, after the manner of all 
quacks, to beware of imitators. 

As an indication to what extent these forms 
of superstition flourish, it would be vastly inter- 
esting to know just how many persons there 
are in the United States, for instance, who get 
their living by such means. Enough, perhaps, 
has been said to open the eyes of even the most 
sceptical on this point. We may add that the 
modern applicant for foreknowledge is not satis- 
fied with the obscure generalizations of the 
ancient oracles. He or she demands a full and 
explicit answer, and will be satisfied with noth- 
ing less. 

Moll Pitcher, of Lynn, who practised her art 
in the early part of the century, was the most 
famous, as she was by far the most successful, 
fortune-teller of her day. In fact, her reputa- 

266 Myths and Fables 

tion was world-wide, it having been carried to 
every port and clime by the masters and sailors, 
who never failed to consult her about the luck 
of the voyage. Her supposed knowledge of 
the future was also much drawn upon by the 
highly respectable owners themselves, who, how- 
ever, possibly through deference to some secret 
qualms, generally made their visits at night, 
sometimes in disguise. 1 Indeed, stories little 
short of marvellous are told of this cunning 
woman's skill at divination, or luck at guessing, 
according as one may choose to look at the 
matter. Besides being the subject of the poet 
Whittier's least-known verses, a long forgot- 
ten play was written with Moll Pitcher as its 
heroine, after the manner of Meg Merrilies, in 
Sir Walter Scott's " Guy Mannering." 

From the earliest to the latest times, the as- 
trologers have always claimed for their methods 
of divination the consideration due to estab- 
lished principles or incontrovertible facts. The 

1 For more about her, see " New England Legends and Folk- 

Fortune-telling, Astrology, etc. 267 

court astrologer was once quite as much con- 
sulted as the court physician. Though fallen 
from this high estate, and even placed under 
the ban of the law as a vagabond and charlatan, 
the astrologer still continues to ply his trade 
among us with more or less success ; and, unless 
we greatly err, the craft even has an organ, 
called not too appropriately, " The Sphinx," as 
the Sphinx has never been known to speak, 
even in riddles. 

Palmistry is the name now given to fortune- 
telling by means of the hand alone. Formerly 
there was no such distinction. After looking 
her client over, the fortune-teller of other days 
always based her predictions upon a careful 
scrutiny of the hand. Some careless hit-or- 
miss reference to the past, at first, such as " you 
have seen trouble," usually preceded the unrav- 
elling of the future. The disciples of palmis- 
try now claim for it something like what was 
earlier claimed for phrenology and physiog- 
nomy. Every one knows that palmistry openly 
thrives in all large communities as a means of 

268 Myths and Fables 

livelihood. How many practise it in private, 
no one can pretend to say, but the number is 
certainly very large. It is a further fact that 
some surprising guesses at character now and 
then occur, but we must hold to the opinion 
that they are still only guesses, nothing more. 


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